Johnny Depp’s bid to have Amber Heard barred from the start of this month’s High Court showdown against The Sun newspaper has been thrown out.
The actor is taking libel action against publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) and its executive editor Dan Wooton over allegations he was violent towards his ex-wife.
A three-week trial, which centres on a 2018 article which refers to Depp as a ‘wife beater’, which he strenuously denies, will begin in London on Tuesday.
But in the latest pre-hearing spat, Depp’s legal time on Friday tried to exclude Heard from attending court until she was called by NGN as a witness – meaning she would be prevented from watching her ex-husband give evidence.
Depp’s lawyer, Eleanor Laws QC, had argued that Heard’s evidence could later be less reliable if she were present during Depp’s testimony.
She also claimed that actress Heard was not a ‘party’ in the litigation and therefore did not have to be in court before appearing as a witness.
But Mr Justice Nicol has refused to grant 57-year-old Depp’s request, clearing the way for Heard, 34, to attend the trial.
The actor (left, in February), 57, is suing the tabloid’s publisher News Group Newspapers and executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article which referred to Depp as a ‘wife beater’. The article related to allegations made against Depp by actress Heard (right, in December), 34, that he was violent towards her during their marriage – claims he strenuously denies
In a court order published today, the judge said that excluding Heard from the hearing ‘would inhibit the defendants in the conduct of their defence’.
He noted that it was NGN and Mr Wootton – not Ms Heard – who was defending the claim, but said that ‘they rely heavily on the information which Ms Heard can provide’.
He added: ‘She (Ms Heard) will not be in a position to give instructions to (NGN’s lawyers), but she can provide information on which the defendants may choose to act.
‘There is a benefit to the defendants in her being able to do that near instantaneously in the course of Depp’s cross-examination and, in my view, it would be unfair to the defendants to deprive them of that advantage.’
It came after NGN’s lawyers last week applied to strike out Depp’s claim over the star’s failure to disclose the ‘Australia drugs texts’ sent between the actor and his assistant, Nathan Holmes.
The pair met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015 (premiere pictured)
The messages, sent in late February and early March 2015 – shortly before an alleged incident in Australia between Depp and Heard, which she claims was ‘a three-day ordeal of physical assaults’ – demonstrated that Depp was trying to get drugs during the Australia visit, Adam Wolanski QC said.
Mr Wolanski said the Hollywood star was in ‘serious’ breach of a court order by not giving NGN’s legal team the messages containing references to ‘happy pills’ and ‘whitey stuff’, which he argued was ‘profoundly damaging to his case’.
The barrister even accused Depp and his lawyers of ‘a systematic attempt to pervert the course of justice’ by deliberately withholding documents from NGN – a claim Depp’s barrister David Sherborne called ‘outrageous’.
Mr Justice Nicol ruled on Monday that Depp had breached an ‘unless order’ requiring him to disclose documents from separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US – which include the text messages.
However, in a further ruling on Thursday, the judge said he would grant Depp’s application for ‘relief from sanctions’, meaning the trial will go ahead as planned.
The judge said his decision was conditional on Depp giving an undertaking that he will not seek sanctions against Heard for allegedly breaching a court order, made during separate libel proceedings in the US, by providing The Sun’s legal team with evidence.
Depp, 57, in one of his most famous roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series as the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow
The alleged incident in Australia is one of 14 separate allegations of domestic violence, between early 2013 and May 2016, that NGN relies on in its pleaded defence to Depp’s claim.
A three-week trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London – which was due to start in March, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic – is due to begin on Tuesday, with Depp’s former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder among the witnesses expected to give evidence.
The court has heard Depp intends to travel from his home in France to London to give evidence, while Heard is believed to have already travelled to the UK from California.
The libel claim against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of publication of an article in The Sun in April 2018, under the headline: ‘Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?’
Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Heard in the US, which the court heard are set for trial next year.
The pair met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.
In May 2016, Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.
The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Heard donating her seven million US dollars (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.