Lawyers hoping to overturn a high-profile libel ruling against Jonny Depp looked to cast doubt on testimony given by his ex-wife Amber Heard, as they sought permission to appeal against last year’s UK court decision.
At the centre of the arguments made by lawyers for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star was the possibility that Heard, a 34-year-old actor, had not donated her $7 million divorce settlement to charity and this had prejudiced the case against Depp.
Court of Appeal judges said they would present a written ruling on the actor’s appeal in the coming days. Neither Depp nor Heard were at the court.
Depp, 57, lost his battle in November for damages over a 2018 article in the Sun newspaper that branded him a “wife-beater” and was ordered to pay News Group Newspapers (NGN), which owns the paper, £628,000 ($873,000, 733,000 euros) in legal costs from the trial.
Depp’s barrister Andrew Caldecot said on Thursday the court had been misled during the previous case by submissions that Heard had donated the full sum of her divorce settlement from the actor to a Los Angeles hospital and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Subpoenas in the US have shown only a fraction of the $7 million had been paid, Caldecot said, explaining the claims of full payment had “tipped the scales against Mr Depp from the very beginning”.
NGN lawyer Adam Wolanski dismissed the issue saying Heard said she had “donated the money, not that she had paid it” and that the two charities had understood the fee would be paid in instalments.
Depp’s legal team also argued that the previous judge had placed too much emphasis on witness testimony and not given weight to contemporary documents, but they were dismissed by NGN barrister Sasha Wass.
“It is not only that there was amply evidence but there was ample supporting evidence,” she said.
– Severed fingertip –
After the November ruling, Depp said he had been asked to step down from his role in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise based on the book by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
The case, which laid bare the actor’s battle with drink and drugs, was dubbed “the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century”.
NGN relied on the defence of truth, arguing it had a valid basis for the 2018 story by detailing 14 alleged instances of Depp abusing Heard.
But Depp brought the action because he said The Sun’s allegations had done a “disservice” to the #MeToo movement it was trying to support, his lawyer David Sherborne said.
His client was “cited in the same breath as disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein”, he added. “That is why he has come here — to clear his name.”
The 16 days of proceedings in July, which both Depp and Heard attended, exposed the couple’s troubled and volatile relationship in excruciating detail.
Depp released a graphic photo showing a severed fingertip that he claimed Heard caused by throwing a vodka bottle at him during a violent row.
Heard claimed Depp injured his fingertip by smashing a telephone into the wall during the argument.
Another episode involved faeces found in the couple’s marital bed, which Depp said was left there as a sick joke by either Heard or one of her friends.
Depp admitted laughing about it when a friend texted him photos of the faeces with the inscription “Amber Turd”.
The judge also forced Depp to face days of cross-examination in which the star admitted to only hazily remembering some events because he was high on drugs.
Depp vehemently rejected accusations that he hurt Heard while battling a drug addiction over a three-year span that ended with her 2016 decision to get a restraining order and file for divorce.
He is also suing Heard in the United States over a 2018 Washington Post article in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic violence.