High Court to decide whether Johnny Depp libel case should go ahead

The High Court is set to rule on whether a trial of Johnny Depp’s libel claim against The Sun newspaper, over allegations he was violent and abusive towards his ex-wife Amber Heard, should go ahead amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Pirates Of The Caribbean star, 56, is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publishers of The Sun, and the newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton over an April 2018 article which referred to him as a “wife-beater”.

A two-week trial is due to begin in London on Monday, at which Mr Depp, Ms Heard and a number of Hollywood figures are due to give evidence.

But Mr Justice Nicol was told on Wednesday that the worldwide spread of Covid-19 meant the trial might need to be adjourned.

The judge has said he will decide whether the trial should go ahead at a further hearing on Friday morning.

Earlier this week, Adam Wolanski QC, for NGN, said his client was “extremely keen” for the trial to go ahead as planned.

He said Ms Heard, 33, who is giving evidence in support of The Sun’s defence, was willing to give evidence “by videolink in the middle of the night from Los Angeles”.

Mr Wolanski added: “Ms Heard has been the subject of extremely serious allegations and wants this over with, needs it over with.”

But he told the court that it was “practically impossible for Ms Heard and other witnesses to come here to give evidence”, because they were concerned they would not be able to travel back to the US.

Jennifer Afia, representing Mr Depp, said her client was also “anxious” for the trial to go ahead, in order to address the “serious allegations that have been hanging over him for a significant amount of time now”.

But she added: “I don’t think it is ideal for people to be giving such serious evidence at 2am their time.”

Ms Afia also warned that hearing witness evidence almost entirely over videolink could “turn into a shambles”.

The libel claim against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of publication of an article in The Sun in April 2018, under the headline “Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

Mr Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US, which the court has previously heard are “ongoing”.

Mr Depp and Ms Heard met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.

In May 2016, Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Mr Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.

The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Ms Heard donating her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.