Johnny Depp's Libel Trial Against The Sun Can Proceed

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp-Getty-H 2019
John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

A British judge has decided that Johnny Depp's litigation against The Sun owner News Group Newspapers over a 2018 article in the tabloid that cast him as a "wife beater" can go ahead, setting the stage for a trial starting next week.

The publisher of the article looked to defend itself from a defamation claim by proving that Depp did, in fact, beat his ex-wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury. 

Earlier this year, the case was rocked by some 70,000 messages that were inadvertently disclosed by Depp's law firm in a filing. Examining whether Depp had sufficiently turned over demanded records to News Group's attorneys, the judge gave Depp a few days to disclose additional audio recordings, as well as court papers from the divorce proceedings between Depp and Heard, while stopping short of making Depp produce other items or sanctioning him for not complying with discovery demands sooner.

The newspaper group's legal team argued that Depp was in breach of a court order because he had not given the team a series of text messages between himself and his assistant. It said the messages, sent in February and March 2015, demonstrated that Depp was trying to get hold of drugs while staying in Australia with Heard, during which time an incident of domestic abuse is alleged to have occurred.

"In my view it would not be just to strike out the claim," the judge's decision, published on Thursday, said. “Despite the breach which I have found …, I am not persuaded that the trial of the claim would be unfair.”

Depp's long-standing position is that it was Heard who was the abusive one during the marriage, including a 2015 audio tape where she apparently stated, "I can't promise I won't get physical again, I get so mad I lose it." During a taped therapy session, it has also been reported that Heard told Depp, "I don't know what the motion of my actual hand was, but you're fine, I did not hurt you, I did not punch you, I was hitting you."

The trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.