Johnny Depp’s libel case against the Sun is due in court this week, Partner in our Media Disputes team Emily Cox spoke with the Observer about why someone might bring such a case, and what might be in store for Depp should it end in his favour.
Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, the publishers of The Sun, and its executive editor Dan Wootton in the English MAC Court, for an article published in 2018 alleging he had been violent towards his ex-wife Amber Heard. The case will hear evidence from a number of Depp’s high profile former partners as witnesses of his character.
Most libel cases get settled for pragmatic reasons, so the fact this case has proceeded to court makes it unusual.
The Observer article looks at what the case might mean for Depp, and what the likely result will be in terms of reputation, costs and damages. It says:
‘The costs that each side will incur tend to be pretty significant,” explained Emily Cox, partner in the media disputes division at law firm Stewarts, who suggested both parties could “quite easily” end up spending £1m each fighting their corner.
‘She added: “Loser pays winner’s costs in this jurisdiction but you don’t tend to recover all of your costs. The reasonable best case is you would get 70% of your costs back.”’
Regarding damages that Depp might receive, the article continues:
‘Cox said it was hard to see any damages awarded to Depp, if his claim were successful, to exceed the £185,000 the BBC paid Lord McAlpine after a Newsnight broadcast led to him being wrongly implicated in child abuse. But Depp, who intends to travel from his home in France to London to give evidence, may have felt he had no choice but to take action. The allegations threaten to curtail a coruscating career.’
Emily explains that these cases are not about damages, but about reputation damage:
“He’s not going to want to remain on the record as somebody who committed domestic violence,” Cox said. “In a #MeToo world there’s much less tolerance of that kind of allegation.”
The article also explains that this case is important, due to ongoing actions filed in other jurisdictions:
‘In legal documents filed by Heard in response, the Aquaman star claimed Depp regularly beat her up before she married him in 2015 and that this continued during their 18-month marriage. Depp, who denies the claims, has in turn accused Heard of attacking him. The UK case therefore may have an important bearing on the US action. “If he gets a strongly worded judgment in this jurisdiction that will go a huge way to clearing his name,” Cox said.’
Emily was also quoted in a Guardian article as follows:
“This is a critical case for Depp as his entire career is at risk, as well as his personal reputation and standing among his adoring fans across the globe.
“It’s unlikely he is pursuing the claim for financial reasons alone as damages for libel in England rarely surpass £100,000, although that is not beyond the realms of possibility in a case of this nature. Sometimes the libel courts may be the only route for someone to clear their name, and London is an attractive place for celebrities to bring claims as English defamation laws are known to be claimant-friendly.
“The stakes for Depp are high: Hollywood has ignored and sanctioned some despicable behaviour by celebrities in the past, but a new wind is blowing through Tinseltown as well as society as a whole. It is likely to be crucial for Depp that he clears his name.”
The trial is due to start on Tuesday 7 July, after a decision in April meant it would not go ahead virtually.
There has already been controversy in this case, with a UK judge ruling that Depp’s legal team disclose audio recordings as further evidence ahead of the case’s original start date in March.
A summary of the press coverage can be found here:
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