Actor Johnny Depp has fought off a High Court bid to temporarily halt his libel action against The Sun over allegations that he beat his former wife Amber Heard.
A judge sitting in London on Wednesday rejected the newspaper’s application that his claim should be “stayed unless and until” the star (pictured with Heard) confirmed in writing that he would not sue Heard if she participated in a forthcoming trial.
Mr Justice Nicklin ruled that such an order was not “necessary” at this stage of the case.
He said the defendants, Sun publisher News Group Newspapers and journalist Dan Wootton, contended that Heard was a “crucial” witness for their defence – which is that the allegations are true.
The Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s libel claim arises out of publication of an article in the Sun last April under the headline “GONE POTTY How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
Mr Justice Nicklin said the article “concerned alleged incidents of domestic violence by Mr Depp against Ms Heard during their marriage”.
Depp’s case, he said, is that the article bears the meaning that he was “guilty, on overwhelming evidence, of serious domestic violence against his then wife, causing significant injury and leading to her fearing for her life, for which the claimant was constrained to pay no less than £5m to compensate her, and which resulted in him being subjected to a continuing court restraining order – and for that reason is not fit to work in the film industry”.
Heard considered she was subject to “confidentiality restrictions” in an August 2016 divorce agreement “which prevent her from assisting the defendants with evidence to support their case”.
But, the judge announced: “I am not satisfied on the current evidence that Ms Heard’s concerns about the restrictions that the divorce agreement imposes on her are well-founded.”
He that even if they were, “the matter is capable of resolution”.
Mr Justice Nicklin said Depp had stated clearly in his evidence to the court that he expects Heard “may well” give evidence in the proceedings, and “he will not attempt to prevent that”.
He added: “The fact that Ms Heard presently thinks that there is some impediment to her giving evidence for the defendants is nothing to do with Mr Depp.
“Even if she were right, there would appear to be a number of ways of resolving the issue that have not yet been explored adequately or at all.”
James Price QC, for Depp, told the judge during the hearing of the application that the actor had “no fear” of Heard giving evidence at the High Court.
Depp, who denies beating Heard, would provide a “raft” of evidence from independent witnesses who “fundamentally contradict the evidence given by Ms Heard”, said Price.
He said the actor “wants to stop false and defamatory publications”.
Adam Wolanski, for the defendants, told the judge they had “pleaded a defence of truth”, and said Depp alleges that it was Heard, not him, who was the “aggressor”.
The judge said: “Whether the allegations of domestic violence are ultimately proved true is a matter for trial. At this stage, the court is not in a position to, and does not, make any findings at all.”
No date has been set for a trial.
Picture: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian/File Photo