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Court Battles across Continents: The Story of Johnny and Amber

*Trigger Warning* This piece contains mentions of violence and domestic abuse. If you need help due to Domestic Abuse, then you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Johnny and Amber

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard met on the set of Rum Diary in 2009. They married in 2015 and less than a year later, Amber Heard applied for a restraining order against him.  She stated that Depp had violently attacked her. There were multiple allegations of domestic violence and she said she endured excessive, emotional, verbal and physical abuse. Johnny Depp denied the abuse.  Their divorce was finalised in January 2017.

The outcome from this has been highly publicised court cases, one of which is still ongoing. This has led to debates about how those accused of abusing their partners should be treated by the public and the rest of their industry.

What is Libel?

In the UK, if someone thinks that what you wrote about them is either defamatory or damaging, then it is up to the author of the article to prove that the
comments are true. The role of the judge and/or jury is to decide whether the accusations are false and damaging. The judge will have considered a range of evidence before making his decision.

The Case

Earlier this year, Johnny Depp brought a libel action against the Sun. The Sun in April 2018  published an article with the headline ‘Gone Potty How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film after assault claim’. For Johnny Depp to have brought a libel claim, he would have to show that he suffered serious harm. The judge had to decide whether there was enough evidence to support the Suns statement that he was a ‘wife-beater’. The judge in question decided that the Sun’s report on allegations that Depp was violent towards Amber Heard was ‘substantially true’.

Potential evidence could have included the following; when Police officers attended the scene of the disturbance in February 2016, they found no evidence of a crime. Perhaps Amber Heard’s previous arrest for violence against her former partner. The witnesses who were meant to appear at his libel trial included Winona Ryder and Vanesa Paradis. The crux of their witness statements was that he was a good person and he was a kind, respectful and protective man and they struggled to believe the allegations. 

It was announced that Johnny Depp had lost his libel case against The Sun on the 2nd November. Since then he has been dropped from the Fantastic
Beasts series after
JK Rowling initially hired him after the allegations came to light saying that the ‘circumstances of his divorce were a private matter’

Johnny Depp has since been refused permission to appeal the decision against him.

Consequences

Since the outcome of the Libel case, there has been a series of petitions on social media for Amber Heard to be removed as a L’Oreal Spokesperson and to be replaced in Aquaman 2. At the time of writing, the respective numbers for the petitions were 70,719 in relation to the L’Oreal spokesperson role and as of the evening of the 24 November, the petition for her to be replaced in Aquaman 2 had nearly 2 million signatures.

There were leaked audio clips from 2015 revealed in an article in January of this year. The content of the tapes were reported to include conversations that Johnny and Amber had decided to make to talk through their marriage problems. This was a consensual recording which was recorded on her phone. The conversation included her admitting that she was physically violent towards him, trying to downplay her physical outbursts and taunting him.

The Washington Post Article

Amber Heard wrote an article in the Washington Post in 2018 which, although did not explicitly name Johnny Depp as her abuser, Johnny Depp is suing her for defamation.  It was confirmed that Johnny Depp would not be returning as Captain Jack Sparrow when the franchise returns. Depp says that the article led to speculation that he was the abuser Amber was talking about which caused him to lose the role. Johnny Depp is continuing his defamation
lawsuit
in the US against her despite the judgment for the libel outcome.

The petitions mentioned previously have not had an effect so far in the way those who signed them would want. Recent reports suggest that Warner Brothers are not taking the petition for Amber Heard to be replaced seriously. There might be growing pressure on them to start taking it seriously with a people calling for it to be boycotted. However, film boycotts do not always work considering the boycott over Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel film which brought in over a billion dollars to Disney.

Conclusion

Whether it is right that Depp has lost jobs over this and Heard has not is going to be something that will split opinion. On the balance of probabilities, a judge decided that there was enough evidence to consider the label attached to Johnny Depp in that article as ‘substantially true . 12 of the 14 assault
allegations
against Johnny Depp were proved to the civil standard. Amber Heard is a victim of domestic abuse. It is also a possibility that Johnny Depp
is a victim of domestic abuse, however, there has not been a legal case on this matter. The recordings between them do suggest that this case is more complex than originally thought. It does suggest that she could have been abusive towards him; although those tapes are not the same as a decision by a Judge in a Court of Law.  

I am not saying that abuse can only have taken place if it is proved in a court. If anyone has suffered abuse, it is completely up to them how they decide to deal with that matter. How they decide to deal with it does not invalidate their experiences. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, latest figures ending March 2020, show an estimated 5.5% of people aged 16 to 74 years old experienced domestic abuse last year. This equates to 2.3 million people. Out of those, less than a million domestic abuse-related crimes were reported to the authorities. How people subjected to domestic abuse process and come to terms with everything is completely up to them. 

In this situation, Warner Brothers cannot fire Amber Heard as there has not been criminal proceedings brought against her or any judgements thereafter. I can understand why people take issue with what has happened but it is important to highlight the distinction.

If she has subjected him to abuse, then yes she should be removed from her high-profile positions like he has been. It is important that if she has been
abusive towards him, it is taken seriously.

England  was once known as the Libel capital of the world. The reputation that we once had for claimant-friendly defamation laws has dwindled since the Defamation Act 2014. The Libel case in relation to Johnny Depp was one of four where the Claimant was defeated in 4 days. This seems to strengthen the already fading reputation of England as the ‘claimant friendly libel capital of the world.

 

 

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