Johnny Depp refused permission to appeal against damning High Court ruling

Sam Tobin and Sian Harrison, PA
·5-min read

Johnny Depp has been refused permission to bring an appeal against a damning High Court ruling that he assaulted ex-wife Amber Heard and left her in “fear for her life”.

Following a three-week trial in July last year, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Hollywood star’s libel claim against the publisher of The Sun, finding that an April 2018 column calling Mr Depp a “wife beater” was “substantially true”.

The judge ruled Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Ms Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.

The actor asked the Court of Appeal to grant permission for him to challenge the ruling, with the aim of having its findings overturned and a retrial ordered.

On Thursday, the court refused permission for Mr Depp to appeal against the High Court ruling.

Announcing the ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lord Justice Underhill said: “We refuse Mr Depp’s application to admit further evidence in support of his proposed appeal and we conclude that the appeal has no real prospect of success and that there is no other compelling reason for it to be heard.

“We accordingly refuse permission to appeal.”

Johnny Depp court case
Johnny Depp (Yui Mok/PA)

In a statement after the ruling, a spokeswoman for The Sun said: “The Sun had every confidence that this leave to appeal application would not be granted and are pleased with today’s decision.

“The case had a full, fair and proper hearing, and today’s decision vindicates the courageous evidence that Amber Heard gave to the court about domestic abuse, despite repeated attempts to undermine and silence her by the perpetrator.

“The Sun will continue to stand up and campaign for victims of domestic abuse.”

A spokeswoman for Amber Heard said in a statement: “We are pleased – but by no means surprised – by the court’s denial of Mr Depp’s application for appeal.

“The evidence presented in the UK case was overwhelming and undeniable.

“To reiterate, the original verdict was that Mr Depp committed domestic violence against Amber on no fewer than 12 occasions and she was left in fear of her life.

“The verdict and lengthy, well-reasoned judgment, including the confidential judgment, have been affirmed.

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

In a statement, Mr Depp’s solicitor Joelle Rich from the law firm Schillings said: “The evidence presented at last week’s hearing further demonstrates that there are clear and objective reasons to seriously question the decision reached in the UK court.

“Mr Depp looks forward to presenting the complete, irrefutable evidence of the truth in the US libel case against Ms Heard, where she will have to provide full disclosure.”

At a hearing last week, Mr Depp’s lawyers asked the court to consider fresh evidence relating to what they said was Ms Heard’s claim that she gave her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) divorce settlement to charity.

His barrister Andrew Caldecott QC told the court that claim was a “calculated and manipulative lie”.

After the couple divorced in 2016, Ms Heard said she would split the seven million dollars between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But, Mr Caldecott said, the hospital wrote to Mr Depp’s business adviser in 2019 to say Ms Heard had not made “any payments”.

The court heard 100,000 dollars (£72,000) was donated to the hospital and 450,000 dollars (£322,000) to the ACLU, although Ms Heard claims she made a further 500,000-dollar (£358,000) donation to the second charity anonymously.

Mr Caldecott said the claims had given Ms Heard “a considerable boost to her credibility as a person”, and had “tipped the scales against Mr Depp from the very beginning”.

Johnny Depp court case
Amber Heard giving a statement outside the High Court in London in July 2020 (Victoria Jones/PA)

But Adam Wolanski QC, representing The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN), said the new evidence Mr Depp wanted to rely on “would not have had any impact” on the result of the trial.

He also rejected Mr Depp’s contention that Ms Heard had lied about donating her divorce settlement to charity, saying: “The information does not demonstrate that Ms Heard lied.”

Mr Wolanski added that Ms Heard had paid “in total, some 950,000 dollars to the ACLU and 850,000 dollars to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles”.

Mr Depp sued NGN in June 2018 over the column by The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Ms Heard.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol concluded 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN in its defence of the actor’s claim did occur.

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

Days after the ruling in November, Mr Depp announced he had been asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – a role that prompted Mr Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” that Mr Depp was cast in the film.

Mr Depp is 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.

The actor’s 50 million dollar (£35 million) US case against Ms Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.