Johnny Depp has been refused permission to bring an appeal against a damning High Court libel ruling in The Sun’s favour 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 Depp a “wife beater” was “substantially true”.
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The judge ruled Depp, 57, assaulted 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 Depp to appeal against the High Court ruling.
‘Full, fair and proper’ trial
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.”
The decision said the original hearing was ” full and fair” and that Mr Justice Nicol had given “thorough reasons for his conclusions which have not been shown even arguably to be vitiated by any error of approach or mistake of law”.
In a statement after the ruling, a spokesperson 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 spokesperson for 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.”
Claims of charity donations ‘lie’ not central
At a hearing last week, Depp’s lawyers asked the court to consider fresh evidence relating to what they said was Heard’s claim that she gave her $7m (£5.5m) 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, Heard said she would split the $7m between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
But, Caldecott said, the hospital wrote to Depp’s business adviser in 2019 to say Heard had not made “any payments”.
The court heard $100,000 (£72,000) was donated to the hospital and $450,000 (£322,000) to the ACLU, although Heard claims she made a further $500,000 (£358,000) donation to the second charity anonymously.
Caldecott said the claims had given Heard “a considerable boost to her credibility as a person”, and had “tipped the scales against Depp from the very beginning”.
But Adam Wolanski QC, representing The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers, said the new evidence Depp wanted to rely on “would not have had any impact” on the result of the trial.
He also rejected Depp’s contention that Heard had lied about donating her divorce settlement to charity, saying: “The information does not demonstrate that Ms Heard lied.”
Wolanski added that Heard had paid “in total, some $950,000 to the ACLU and $850,000 to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles”.
In his written ruling on Thursday, Lord Justice Underhill said: “We do not accept that there is any ground for believing that the judge may have been influenced by any such general perception as Mr Caldecott relies on.
“In the first place, he does not refer to her charitable donation at all in the context of his central findings.
“On the contrary, he only mentions it in a very particular context… and after he had already reached his conclusions in relation to the 14 incidents.”
Depp sued NGN in June 2018 over the column by The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked 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 Depp put 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, Depp announced he had been asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – the role that had prompted Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” that Depp was cast in the film.
Depp is embroiled in a separate libel battle in the US, having sued 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 (£35 million) US case against Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.