Johnny Depp’s bid to overturn damning High Court judgment dealt initial setback

Johnny Depp's bid to overturn a damning High Court ruling that he assaulted his ex-wife Amber Heard and put her in fear for her life has been dealt an initial setback after he was refused permission to appeal.

The Hollywood star sued The Sun's publisher for libel after a 2018 column by its executive editor Dan Wootton labelled him a "wife beater".

The 57-year-old took legal action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) over the column, which referred to "overwhelming evidence" he attacked Ms Heard, 34, during their relationship.

Earlier this month, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean actor's claim, finding NGN had proved what was in the article was "substantially true".

The same judge refused Mr Depp permission to appeal last week, ruling: "I do not consider that the proposed grounds of appeal have a reasonable prospect of success."

The judge also ordered the actor to make an initial payment to NGN of almost £630,000 for the publisher's legal fees.

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FILE - In this Tuesday, July 28, 2020 file photo, American actor Johnny Depp, waves as he leaves after the end of the trial at the High Court in London. The UK High Court has ruled against Johnny Depp in his libel suit against the owner of the Sun newpaper over wife-beating allegation, it was reported on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)
FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, July 28, 2020, US Actress Amber Heard, former wife of actor Johnny Depp, arrives at the High Court in London. Britain’s judicial office said Tuesday Oct. 27, 2020, that judge Andrew Nicol will deliver his verdict in writing on Nov. 2, ruling on whether Johnny Depp was libelled by a tabloid newspaper that accused him of assaulting his then wife Amber Heard. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, FILE)
In this court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook, actress Amber Heard being being cross-examined by Eleanor Laws QC as she gives evidence at the High Court in London, Tuesday July 21, 2020. Amber Heard took to the witness box for her second day giving evidence in Depp’s libel case against a British tabloid over allegations of domestic violence. The Hollywood star strongly denies abusing Heard. (Elizabeth Cook via PA via AP)
Photo by: KGC-158/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 7/28/20 Johnny Depp departs The Royal Courts Of Justice on the final day of his libel case. (London, England, UK)
Photo by: KGC-158/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 7/28/20 Amber Heard is seen giving a statement outside The Royal Courts Of Justice on the final day of Johnny Depp's libel case. (London, England, UK)
A brown envelope containing a bandana and a handwritten note from actor Johnny Depp, given to supporters, at the High Court, on the final day of hearings in his libel case, in London, Tuesday July 28, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper's executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a "wife-beater." The Sun's defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by ex wife Ambere Heard of Depp's violence. He strongly denies all of them. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
Photo by: KGC-182/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 7/28/20 Amber Heard and her attorney Jennifer Robinson are seen in Soho following the conclusion of a three week libel trial against Amber's former husband Johnny Depp. (London, England, UK)
Photo by: KGC-158/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 7/28/20 Johnny Depp departs The Royal Courts Of Justice on the final day of his libel case. (London, England, UK)
Actor Johnny Depp, centre, receives flowers as he arrives at the High Court for a hearing in his libel case, in London, Friday, July 24, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper's executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a "wife-beater." The Sun's defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard of Depp's violence. He strongly denies all of them. (Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP)
Actor Johnny Depp, second right, arrives at the High Court for a hearing in his libel case, in London, Friday, July 24, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper's executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a "wife-beater." The Sun's defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard of Depp's violence. He strongly denies all of them. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
Actress Amber Heard arrives at the High Court for a hearing in Johnny Depp's libel case, in London, Friday, July 24, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper's executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a "wife-beater." The Sun's defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by Heard of Depp's violence. He strongly denies all of them. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
London, UK - 22 July 2020 Johnny Depp attends libel trial against the Sun at The Royal Courts of Justice. CAP/JOR ©JOR/Capital Pictures / MediaPunch /IPX
London, UK - 22 July 2020 Amber Heard attends libel trial against the Sun at The Royal Courts of Justice. CAP/JOR ©JOR/Capital Pictures / MediaPunch /IPX
Photo by: KGC-158/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 7/21/20 Johnny Depp seen arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice for a 11th day of his Libel Trial in London.
London, UK - 20 July 2020: ***NORTH AMERICA ONLY*** Amber Heard attends libel trial against The Sun, a tabloid newspaper, at The Royal Courts of Justice. Credit: JOR/Capital Pictures /MediaPunch /IPX
Actress Amber Heard arrives at the High Court in London, Monday, July 20, 2020. Amber Heard started Monday to give evidence at the High Court in London as part of Johnny Depp’s libel case against The Sun over allegations of domestic violence during the couple's relationship. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
London, UK - 20 July 2020 ***NORTH AMERICAS ONLY*** Johnny Depp attends libel trial against the Sun tabloid newspaper at The Royal Courts of Justice in London, England. CAP/GOL ©GOL/Capital Pictures /MediaPunch /IPX
London, UK - 20 July 2020 ***NORTH AMERICAS ONLY*** Johnny Depp attends libel trial against the Sun tabloid newspaper at The Royal Courts of Justice in London, England. CAP/GOL ©GOL/Capital Pictures /MediaPunch /IPX
Actor Johnny Depp gestures as he arrives at the High Court to give evidence in his libel case, in London, Wednesday July 15, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” The Sun’s defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by Amber Heard of Depp’s violence. He strongly denies all of them. ( Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
Actress Amber Heard gestures as she arrives at the High Court for a hearing in Johnny Depp's libel case, in London, Wednesday July 15, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” The Sun’s defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by Heard of Depp’s violence. He strongly denies all of them. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)
Actress Amber Heard, centre, arrives at the High Court for a hearing in Johnny Depp's libel case against the publishers of The Sun and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, in London, Tuesday July 14, 2020. Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” The Sun’s defense relies on a total of 14 allegations by Heard of Depp’s violence. He strongly denies all of them. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
Actress Amber Heard, center, leaves the High Court in London, Monday, July 13, 2020. Johnny Depp accused Amber Heard of hitting him with a “haymaker” punch during an altercation near the end of their volatile marriage, as the star wrapped up testimony in his libel suit against a British tabloid newspaper that accused him of domestic abuse. The Hollywood star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
American actor Johnny Depp poses for the media as he arrives at the High Court in London, Monday, July 13, 2020. Depp is expected to wrap up his evidence at his libel trial against a tabloid newspaper that accused him of abusing ex-wife Amber Heard. The Hollywood star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
American actor Johnny Depp arrives at the High Court in London, Monday, July 13, 2020. Depp is expected to wrap up his evidence at his libel trial against a tabloid newspaper that accused him of abusing ex-wife Amber Heard. The Hollywood star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Actor Johnny Depp, second left, leaves the High Court in London, Monday, July 13, 2020. Depp accused Amber Heard of hitting him with a “haymaker” punch during an altercation near the end of their volatile marriage, as the star wrapped up testimony in his libel suit against a British tabloid newspaper that accused him of domestic abuse. The Hollywood star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
American actor Johnny Depp arrives at the High Court in London, Monday, July 13, 2020. Depp is expected to wrap up his evidence at his libel trial against a tabloid newspaper that accused him of abusing ex-wife Amber Heard. The Hollywood star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Johnny Depp arrives at the High Court in London, Thursday, July 9, 2020. Johnny Depp is back in the witness box for a third day at the trial of his libel suit against a tabloid newspaper that called him a “wife-beater.” Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the paper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that said he’d physically abused ex-wife Amber Heard.  He strongly denies ever hitting Heard. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Actress Amber Heard arrives at the High Court in London, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Johnny Depp is facing a second day of cross-examination by lawyers for British tabloid The Sun, which is defending a libel claim after calling the Hollywood star a "wife beater." Depp is suing The Sun's publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that said he'd been abusive to ex-wife Amber Heard. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Actor Johnny Depp leaves the High Court in London, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. The libel case by Depp against a British tabloid newspaper started Tuesday over a 2018 article that branded him violent and abusive to then-wife Amber Heard. Depp strongly denies the claim. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 28: Amber Heard departs from the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand on July 28, 2020 in London, England. Hollywood Actor Johnny Depp is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) and the Sun's executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an article published in 2018 that referred to him as a "wife beater" during his marriage to actor Amber Heard. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
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Mr Justice Nicol said in his ruling: "In substance, the claimant disagrees with my findings of fact, but for the reasons summarised by (NGN's barrister Adam Wolanksi QC) the findings of fact by a first instance tribunal – particularly one, such as myself, who has heard oral evidence – are rarely open to challenge on appeal.

"In any event, I do not consider that the proposed grounds of appeal have a reasonable prospect of success – and that is also the case so far as the grounds of appeal suggest that I erred in principle or in law – and there is not some other compelling reason why permission to appeal should be granted."

In the ruling, which was made public on Wednesday, Mr Justice Nicol gave Mr Depp until December 7 to apply directly to the Court of Appeal to overturn his judgment.

In his main judgment, published earlier this month, Mr Justice Nicol concluded that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN did occur.

The judge found that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard on a dozen occasions and put her in "fear for her life" on three occasions, including one the actress described as a "three-day hostage situation" in Australia in March 2015.

Mr Justice Nicol found Ms Heard was also in fear for her life during incidents on the Eastern and Oriental Express in South East Asia in August 2015 and again in LA in December of the same year.

The judge said "a recurring theme in Mr Depp's evidence was that Ms Heard had constructed a hoax and that she had done this as an 'insurance policy'", and that Ms Heard was a "gold-digger".

But he added: "I do not accept this characterisation of Ms Heard."

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AP: Johnny Depp and Kate Moss arrive for the premiere of "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" at the Palais Des Festivals in Cannes, France, during the 51st Cannes Film Festival.
Depp performed bass guitar for the Pogues during their performance on the BBC's 'Top of the Pops'.
Actors Johnny Depp (left) and Benicio Del Toro arrives for the Orange British Academy Film Awards at the Odeon Leicester Square in London.
American actor Johnny Depp with British actress Kate Winslet during a photocall to promote their latest film Finding Neverland, during the 61st Venice Film Festival at Lido in Venice.
Actor Johnny Depp during the photocall.
Johnny Depp arrives for the European Premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, central London.
(Left-right) Mackenzie Crook, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom arrive for the European Premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, central London.
Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis arrives.
(left to right) Graham Norton, Johnny Depp, Ricky Gervais, Carey Mulligan and Ed Byrne, during the filming of the Graham Norton Show at The London Studios, south London, to be aired on BBC One on Friday evening.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arriving at the Costume Institute Benefit Met Gala celebrating the opening of the Charles James, Beyond Fashion Exhibition and the new Anna Wintour Costume Center. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
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Mr Depp announced just days after the ruling that he was asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – the very role which prompted Mr Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be "genuinely happy" Mr Depp was cast in the film.

In that statement, he said: "The surreal judgement of the court in the UK will not change my fight to tell the truth and I confirm that I plan to appeal."

His solicitor Jenny Afia, from the Schillings law firm, had said the High Court ruling was "as perverse as it is bewildering", adding: "The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision."

But Ms Heard's US lawyer, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said: "For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.

"Very soon, we will be presenting even more voluminous evidence in the US."

Mr Depp is currently embroiled in a separate libel battle in the US, having sued Ms Heard personally over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse.

The actor is reportedly seeking 50 million US dollars in damages from his ex-wife over the article, which did not mention him by name – but Ms Heard is countersuing for twice that amount, claiming Mr Depp orchestrated a smear camp against her.

That case is due to be heard in Virginia, where the Washington Post is published, some time in 2021.

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