Johnny Depp has asked the Court of Appeal to order a retrial of his libel claim against The Sun over an article calling him a “wife beater”, which a High Court judge found was “substantially true”.
The Hollywood star sued the newspaper’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) over a 2018 column by its executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked his ex-wife Amber Heard.
Following a high-profile trial in July, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed his claim, finding Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Ms Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.
The actor claims he “did not receive a fair trial” and the judge’s ruling is “plainly wrong” and “manifestly unsafe”, according to documents filed by Mr Depp’s legal team with the Court of Appeal.
Mr Depp’s barrister David Sherborne has asked the Court of Appeal to “set aside the judgment and order a new trial” if permission to appeal against Mr Justice Nicol’s judgment is given.
Mr Sherborne argued the judge “failed to examine the evidence and the arguments with the care that the parties were entitled to expect and which a proper resolution of the issues demanded”.
He said Mr Justice Nicol’s findings were “bare assertions without any real explanation for how he reached these serious findings in the face of conflicting accounts of events”.
The barrister also argued the judge “uncritically accepted at the outset that Ms Heard must have been correct in her allegations” and “discounted evidence to the contrary”.
Mr Sherborne said Mr Justice Nicol “failed to undertake any, or an adequate analysis, of Ms Heard’s shifting account, despite the importance of consistency as a consideration of a witness’s testimony”.
The barrister added: “He just accepted everything Ms Heard said, however implausible and however inconsistent with the documents.”
The judge “concluded that the appellant was guilty of serious physical assaults without taking account of or even acknowledging that Ms Heard had been untruthful in her evidence, without testing her account against the documentary evidence and the evidence of other witnesses and without making any findings that he disbelieved those witnesses”, Mr Sherborne added.
He argued: “The conclusion which flows from an overall assessment of the judgment is that (Mr Justice Nicol) decided to find for the ‘victim’ but failed to provide the necessary analysis to explain or justify that conclusion.
“Also he excluded relevant evidence from his consideration, ignored or dismissed as irrelevant matters that substantially undermined Ms Heard, made findings unsupported by the evidence and failed to assess whether her allegations could withstand proper scrutiny.
“The judge failed to properly assess her credibility by reference to documentary evidence, photographs, recordings or otherwise.”
Mr Sherborne also said the judgment, which made “devastating findings of extremely serious criminal offences having been committed”, had “wider-ranging implications for the public at large, particularly victims, or those wrongly accused, of alleged domestic abuse”.
He further claimed that audio recordings of Mr Depp and Ms Heard while they were in a relationship demonstrated that “Ms Heard had not only been the violent one … but that she had also been untruthful in her oral evidence about the appellant’s violence”.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol concluded that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN did occur.
The judge found 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.
But Mr Depp’s legal team claim Mr Justice Nicol “failed to examine the competing accounts of each incident, or to explain whether he found them proved and, if so, on what basis”.
They also argue that “the judge should have analysed the extent to which Ms Heard’s evidence undermined her credibility in relation to her allegations of physical assault/injury”.
Mr Sherborne said Mr Justice Nicol “took little or no account of the striking examples of Ms Heard’s willingness to lie or commit wrongdoing”.
The barrister also criticised the judge for “discounting evidence from (Mr Depp’s) own employees”, saying: “If, as the judge found, the appellant’s staff were motivated to avoid bad publicity for the appellant, the judge failed to consider the inherent probabilities which flowed from that finding.”
He added: “Even if the appellant’s employees were only interested in protecting the appellant, the only conduct consistent with that priority would have been to have intervened to stop an assault.”
Just days after the ruling, Mr Depp announced he had been 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.
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 but did not mention the actor by name.