It is official – The Sun did not libel Johnny Depp as ‘wife beater’

News / It is official – The Sun did not libel Johnny Depp as ‘wife beater’

Last Updated on 02/11/2020

It is official – The Sun did not libel Johnny Depp as ‘wife beater’

The UK’s Defamation law has been tried in the Royal Courts of Justice for 16 days in July this Year by Johnny Depp pursuing a Defamation action against the Sun newspapers. It was almost 2 years ago, in April 2018, that the Sun printed a news story about Johnny Depp being cast by JK Rowling and in the article referred to him as “wife beater Johnny Depp”, in reference to his relationship with his former wife, Amber Heard.

Libel references the written part of the law of Defamation. A claim in Defamation, whether written or spoken in public, if it is untrue, harmful and damaging to reputation that may cause loss; financial or otherwise. He claimed that The UK was the forum and law applicable to Johnny’s claim, even though he lives in the US. This is because the Sun’s article was published in the UK and Johnny had a reputation in the UK which needed to be protected. Any individual or even a company can bring such a claim where a reputation is harmed.

The UK Defamation law requires any claim to be issued at Court within one year of the publication and Johnny and his legal team promptly brought its claim. The one year may seem strict, however, the longer that the Defamatory publication is made available, the more harm its causes. Most claims brought aim to retract a publication, publish an apology for the untruths and may include a claim for monetary loss if such a loss can be evidenced. Most complainants remain content with the publication of an apology if they have acted quickly enough to avoid financial loss.

This is because the legal costs of a Defamation Trial can be enormous. In due course after the Judge Mr Justice Nicol’s Judgment in the matter, there will be a claim for legal costs to be paid by Johnny to the Sun (News Group Newspapers Ltd – the publisher and Dan Wootton – the executive editor for the Sun). Those costs are likely to be significant even though the Trial brought enjoyment to the UK public and media.

The Defence that was used by the Sun were:

  • Truth – Section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013: The Judge upheld that the Sun was able to prove that 12 out of 14 incidents reported by Amber Heard. The impact of the other 2 incidents not proved did not deny the Sun the ability to substantial truth of the words it published. The judge cited an e-mail that Johnny has sent in August 2016 in which he stated: “I can only hope that karma kicks in and takes the gift of breath from her … Sorry man … But NOW I will stop at nothing!!!”.
  • Other defences that can been available:

  • Honest opinion – Section 3 of the Defamation Act 2013: That the words are a statement of opinion and indicated it was an opinion and honestly-held at the time it was published. This involved an analysis of facts. This is an often-used defence where a review it taken by the publisher over the company or individual bringing the claim.
  • Publication on matter of public interest – Section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013: This allows arguments that even if the statement that was published was not entirely correct, it was a statement or part thereof of something that was clearly in the public interest. This is often a defence used by Journalists.
  • Privilege – Section 7 of the Defamation Act 2013: This protects the accurate and fair reporting of what is said in the Courts and Parliament and by official bodies exercising a judicial function, another common defence when looking at Journalists and news reporting.
  • Operators of Websites and Innocent dissemination – Section 5 of the Defamation Act 2013: This protects website operators and TV reporters and radio stations from being the subject of a claim against them when a contributor, a reviewer, testimonial producer or a guest writes or says something highly defamatory. However, for website operators the law has made sure that they can be held as onerous if they do not follow protocol set out by The Defamation (operators of Website) Regulations 2013.

The publicity brought by the Defamation claim has been claimed by Johnny as a Trial via the media. The Court heard and saw video footage and messages and testimony of those surrounding and involved in the couple’s life. At times, in Court it was claimed that Amber Heard herself has been as abusive to Johnny leading to his outbursts.

The Sun relied on the moral and public victory after the verdict was given today, stating: “The Sun has stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over 20 years. Domestic abuse victims must never be silenced, and we thank the judge for his careful consideration and thank Amber Heard for her courage in giving evidence to the court.”

The advice to individual or organisations faced with similar comments or statements published about them is to seek immediate legal advice. The lengthy and expensive trial and further bad publicity and media can be avoided, by agreed retractions and apologies, but that can only be of use and avoid substantial financial loss if you act quickly.

Here at Clear Commercial you can contact Manisha Modasia at any time to discuss such claims on 0161 873 2797.

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