British court rejects Johnny Depp’s bid to appeal ‘wife beater’ libel ruling

Actor Johnny Depp
Actor Johnny Depp at the San Sebastian Film Festival in northern Spain last September.
(Alvaro Barrientos / Associated Press)

A British court Thursday refused Johnny Depp permission to appeal a judge’s ruling that he assaulted ex-wife Amber Heard, saying his attempt to overturn the decision had “no real prospect of success.”

Two Court of Appeal judges said the Hollywood star cannot challenge the High Court’s rejection of his libel lawsuit against the publisher of the Sun newspaper, which called him a “wife beater” in an article.

Jurists James Dingemans and Nicholas Underhill said that the earlier court hearing was “full and fair” and that the trial judge’s conclusions “have not been shown even arguably to be vitiated by any error of approach or mistake of law.”


They concluded that “the appeal has no real prospect of success and that there is no other compelling reason for it to be heard.”

High Court Justice Andrew Nicol ruled in November that allegations against Depp, made in an April 2018 article, were “substantially true.” The judge ruled that Depp, 57, assaulted Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in fear for her life three times.

Depp’s lawyers argued at a court hearing last week that he hadn’t received a fair hearing and that Heard was an unreliable witness. As evidence of her unreliability, they claimed that Heard hadn’t kept her promise to donate her $7-million divorce settlement to charity.

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The appeals judges said it was “pure speculation, and in our view very unlikely,” that the disposition of the divorce money influenced Nicol’s decision.

“It is clear from a reading of the judgment as a whole that the judge based his conclusions on each of the incidents on his extremely detailed review of the evidence specific to each incident,” they said. “In an approach of that kind there was little need or room for the judge to give weight to any general assessment of Ms. Heard’s credibility.”

Depp and Heard met on the set of the 2011 comedy “The Rum Diary” and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. Heard, a model and actress, filed for divorce the following year and obtained a restraining order against Depp on the grounds of domestic abuse. The divorce was finalized in 2017.

The High Court ruling came after a headline-grabbing three-week trial in July, in which Depp and Heard gave conflicting accounts of their brief, tempestuous marriage, with each accusing the other of being controlling, violent and deceitful.

The incidence of injuries attributed to domestic partner violence rose sharply after the coronavirus outbreak began, and those injuries were more serious.

During the trial. Depp acknowledged wide-ranging drug problems, but accused Heard of making up abuse allegations and insisted that he was “not a violent person, especially with women.”

Heard’s public relations firm said in a statement that she was “pleased — but by no means surprised” by the Court of Appeal’s decision.

“Mr. Depp’s claim of new and important evidence was nothing more than a press strategy, and has been soundly rejected by the court,” the statement said.

Attorney Jeffrey Smele, who represented News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun, said Thursday’s ruling was “a victory for the freedom of the press and for victims of domestic violence everywhere.”

Depp’s lawyers have said that the allegations in the Sun caused “serious harm” to his reputation and “significant distress and embarrassment.” In the wake of the November court ruling, Depp said he was leaving the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise after Warner Bros. requested his resignation.

Depp is also suing Heard for $50 million in Virginia over a Washington Post op-ed essay that she wrote about domestic violence. The trial in that case was recently delayed until April 2022.