In a judgment handed down on 25 March 2021 ([2021] EWCA Civ 423 [pdf]), the Court of Appeal (Underhill and Dingemans LJJ) refused Johnny Depp’s application for permission to appeal against Mr Justice Nicol’s dismissal of his libel claim against the Sun.

The claim was based on a story in The Sun alleging that he had beaten his former wife, Amber Heard. After a three week High Court trial Mr Justice Nicol found that the allegation was true ([2020] EWHC 2911 (QB)).

The Court in its judgment emphasised that an appeal against the decision of a trial judge on
questions of disputed fact faced serious difficulties [8].   It held that none of the criticisms of the Judge’s reasoning or conclusion advanced on behalf of Mr Depp in his seven Grounds of Appeal [pdf] had a real prospect of success (see [10] to [22]).

The Court concluded:

As we have said, it is not easy to persuade this Court to overturn the findings of a trial judge on purely factual questions. We do not believe that there is a real prospect of it being prepared to do so in this case. The hearing before Nicol J was full and fair, and he gave thorough reasons for his conclusions which have not been shown even arguably to be vitiated by any error of approach or mistake of law”.

Mr Depp sought to rely on further evidence showing that Ms Heard has not yet given away most of the $7 million, received in her divorce settlement from Mr Depp, which she had said that she was donating to charity. The Court of Appeal makes no finding about whether her statements about her donations were misleading. It notes that that was not a question which was raised with her by Mr Depp’s lawyers at the trial ([49]) and that there was no reason to believe that the Judge’s decision was influenced by what she had said about the donations ([44] to [45]).

The case has now concluded.

A spokesperson for Amber Heard said:

“We are pleased – but by no means surprised – by the court’s denial of Mr Depp’s application for an 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.”

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.”

In a statement, Mr Depp’s solicitors, Schillings said:

“The evidence presented at last week’s hearing further demonstrates that there are clear and objective reasons to seriously question the decision reached in the UK court.

Mr Depp looks forward to presenting the complete, irrefutable evidence of the truth in the US libel case against Ms Heard, where she will have to provide full disclosure.”