Johnny Depp will not have his day in court (again). The actor has been denied an appeal in his high-profile libel case in the UK with The Sun publisher News Group Newspapers.
Depp was looking to overturn a decision in which Judge Andrew Niccol ruled that the tabloid was fair in calling him a “wife beater”, with the verdict asserting that the accusation was “substantially true” in regard to his relationship with ex-wife Amber Heard. That ruling has now been upheld by the UK Court of Appeal.
This is a significant blow for Depp. After the initial trial, he was dropped from Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts franchise and replaced by Mads Mikkelsen, and he is now tarred with the ‘wife beater’ brush ahead of his blockbuster defamation trial against Heard in the U.S. next year.
Responding to today’s verdict, Depp’s lawyer, Joelle Rich of Schillings Partners, sent a statement to Deadline saying she “seriously questioned” the UK court’s decision and that the actor was looking forward to “presenting the complete, irrefutable evidence of the truth in the U.S. libel case against Ms. Heard where she will have to provide full disclosure”.
A spokesperson for Heard said they were “pleased but by no means surprised” by the decision and called Depp’s team’s claim of ‘new and important evidence’ “no more than a press strategy”.
“The evidence presented in the UK case was overwhelming and undeniable. To reiterate, the original verdict was that Mr. Depp committed domestic violence against Amber on no fewer than 12 occasions and she was left in fear of her life,” they added.
Appeals Judges Lord Justice Dingemans and Lord Justice Underhill this morning released a 14-page document explaining their decision.
“The hearing before Nicol J was full and fair, and he gave thorough reasons for his conclusions which have not been shown even arguably to be vitiated by any error of approach or mistake of law,” they said.
The court explained that it did not believe Depp’s team’s criticisms of Judge Niccol had a real chance of success on appeal, and that it did not accept that the judge had been swayed by the idea of Heard’s $7M charitable donations from her divorce settlement with Depp, which the actor’s reps claimed had never been fulfilled.
Andrew Caldecott QC led the bid for appeal on behalf of Depp. Last week, he told the UK Court of Appeal that an allegation made against Heard in January – the she had falsely claimed her $7M divorce payout had been given to charity – was grounds for the appeal to be heard.
During the original trial in the UK High Court, Heard stated that she donated the full amount to causes including L.A.’s Children Hospital Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, and this was cited by News Group’s lawyers as evidence that the actress could not be characterized as a “gold digger”. Earlier this year, her U.S. lawyer admitted to Deadline that the donations had been “delayed”, but claimed that this was because of Depp’s legal action against the actress, which had cost her millions of dollars in legal fees.
Caldecott had argued that the donation had “tipped the scales from the very beginning” of the case and that Heard had made a “calculated and manipulative lie”. He claimed that the original court may have been unable to ascertain Heard’s credibility because it had been swayed by the idea of the $7M donation.
News Groups’ rep Adam Wolanski had countered by saying that Heard had not lied, that the donations will be made, and that the information had been available to Depp’s team long before the original trial. He also said the “gold digger” argument was a “misogynistic trope”.
In today’s appeal ruling, the judges said they made no finding on whether her statements about her donations were misleading, noting that Depp’s team had not raised the issue at trial, and that they did not see reason to believe that the original judge’s decision was influenced by what had been said about the donations.
Over in the U.S., Depp’s separate $50M defamation trial against Herd was recently delayed until April 11, 2022. The actress is also pursuing a $100M countersuit.