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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Depp 3-week libel trial was 'unacceptable' use of court time

Depp 3-week libel trial was 'unacceptable' use of court time


Johnny Depp's three-week High Court libel case against The Sun has prompted criticism at “unnecessary” use of court time

Actor Johnny Depp has today lost a three-week High Court libel case against The Sun newspaper, prompting criticism at the “unnecessary” resources which would have been denied to other domestic abuse victims.

“At a time where the court system has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, to be given three weeks of high court time is unacceptable”, said Sarah Harding, a family law partner at firm Hodge Jones & Allen.

Depp brought proceedings after the newspaper published an article calling him a “wife beater”, prompting a high-profile three-week trial where several sordid details of the marriage between Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard were made public.

Depp rejected all the allegations of abuse made against him and made many counter allegations of abuse against Heard.

Mr Justice Nichol concluded that the newspaper was justified in reporting that he was violent towards his ex-wife on at least one occasion during their relationship.

The court found that what was published in the article was substantially true.

Harding said the result of the case shows that domestic abuse victims are being taken seriously.

However, she expressed disappointment that “such a lengthy court battle ensued at considerable cost, which would not be afforded to other victims in similar situations”.

“The high-profile nature of this case meant that it was given a substantial amount of time and resource, which seems to me to be completely unnecessary”, she added.

Harding comment that while cases with cross allegations of abuse by both parties are complex, the firm has worked with many clients in similar cases.

Criticising the amount of court time taken up, she added: “In reality, it is very rare for witnesses to be allowed to give evidence, and the court would usually not allow (and do not have time) to give more than one day, which is usually permitted.”

“If this was a domestic abuse case and had been held within the family courts, overseen by a district judge, it would have been a much simpler process, all while still providing the necessary protection to the victim”, she commented.

“It is disappointing to see this reflected in our justice system when there is a significant backlog of cases, involving serious allegations which cannot get a court listing at all.”

“However”, added Harding, “it is hoped that this case will encourage other victims of domestic violence to come forward and seek the protection that they need. 

“In addition to the #MeToo movement and the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently going through parliament, this case will highlight that the courts do listen, regardless of wealth or stature.”