Johnny Depp loses libel claim against The Sun

Matthew Howe

Back in April, we report on Pirates of the Caribbean star, Johnny Depp's libel claim against News Group Newspapers, who publish The Sun, and the paper's executive editor Dan Wootton, in relation to an accusation that he was a ‘wife beater’.

The trial was meant to take place back in March but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The highly publicised 16-day trial eventually took place in July. Both Mr Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard, attended the trial to give evidence. Ms Heard gave evidence in support of the Defendants who heavily relied on the defence of ‘truth’.

Mr Depp and Ms Heard’s relationship was thrown into the public spotlight a few years ago when Ms Heard made a number of public accusations that Mr Depp had been physically abusive throughout their marriage. Mr Depp then made similar accusations about Ms Heard.

Having considered both parties’ cases throughout the lengthy trial, Justice Nicol handed down his Judgment in favour of the Defendants, dismissing Mr Depp’s claim. It seems that the evidence provided by the Defendants was enough to persuade Justice Nicol that the accusation was ‘substantially true’ and that Mr Depp had been physically abusive to Ms Heard whilst she was his wife.

The Defamation Act 2013 only requires that a statement be substantially, (but not absolutely) true, to be protected under the defence of truth. This gives defendants some flexibility when defending a libel or slander claim in the UK.

Mr Depp’s legal representatives have already indicated that he intends to appeal the Judgment and that the decision was perverse.

Whilst not a landmark Judgment, this case was seen by many as a significant libel case due to not only those involved but also the potential implications. Many labelled this as a rare ‘Hollywood’ case in a UK court. Celebrities or high profile individuals have often wielded the threat of a defamation claim to protect their reputations. It is not uncommon to hear the line ‘I’ll sue you for defamation’ in many films or television shows, but it is rare for those threats to be followed all the way to trial.

This Judgment is somewhat of a warning to such Claimants looking to bring a claim. Mr Depp’s personal life was aired in public for all to see and he will no doubt be ordered to pay a large proportion of the Defendants’ legal costs incurred to defend his claim.

If you have been the victim of libel or slander, and require assistance and legal advice, contact us for a discussion about how we can help.