As a divorce lawyer looking on as an observer to the wholesale destruction being played out in the libel courts in relation to the now extinct relationship between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, I am not filled with glee, but utter sadness at the revelations that have been played out so publicly.
One must not forget that this is not a divorce case where the parties are arguing over assets to be fairly distributed, but a libel case that has been brought by Johnny Depp to salvage his reputation as a purported “wife beater” that he says he was branded by the Sun Newspaper. It would seem that the nation appears to be divided between the Amber supporters and Johnny Depp supporters over which appears to have now become the battle of the sexes.
However, what are the real issues in this case which appear to have been obscured by the wholesale revelations that have been made by Amber Heard’s team on a daily basis?
- What many members of the public have lost sight of that this in an action that has been brought by Johnny Depp to sue the Sun Newspaper and its Editor Dan Wootton for mis-describing him as a wife beater. The Sun and Dan Wootton through their lawyers, claim that in order for it to be a justifiable libel it is based upon the accusations being true. The basis for their assertion is that Amber Heard, as their chief witness and her other supporting co-oberative witnesses has asserted that Johnny Depp have assaulted her on fourteen separate occasions and therefore the description of him as a wife beater is fully justified.
- Johnny Depp’s team are arguing that there is no validity whatsoever to that assertion and that as a consequence of that wrongly described definition of him as a wife beater that he has lost the opportunity of continuing to star in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and other work. He is therefore claiming damages as a result.
The other issues therefore that arise from this are: –
- Is Johnny Depp telling the truth when he suggests that he has never been a wife beater and is Amber Heard someone who has invented all of these allegations for her own purposes including to obtain a better divorce settlement at the time that she made those assertions; or
- Is Amber Heard telling the truth about the abuse that she suffered at the hands of Johnny Depp who she claims was not aware of what he was doing most of the time because of his drug intake and drinking to excess to the extent that he was committing these acts through what she describes as the third party in their relationship, “the monster”?
As a seasoned practitioner, I often deal with victims of domestic abuse. It is quite often the case that we can tell by the way a woman walks into our office that she has been the subject of abuse of one form or another but particularly domestic abuse by the manner in which she presents. It is for this reason that the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp case has become so very difficult to call. Amber Heard describes umpteen times that she has been abused physically by Johnny Depp in what would appear to be a very volatile relationship. However, what has become exceedingly difficult to establish from the evidence given thus far is who was the victim and who was the perpetrator. Each appear to be blaming the other for domestic abuse yet neither party appear to coming out well from the revelations.
From someone who specialises in victims of domestic abuse, Amber Heard does not present as the normal victim. That does not mean that she has not suffered in the way that she has described, but her demeanour certainly does not fit in with the normal victim of domestic abuse. The fact that she is laughing and smiling on the way to testify about the overwhelming domestic abuse that she says that she has suffered at the hands of Johnny Depp, does not fit at all with how normal victims present. Of course, we are here dealing with celebrities who may have a different agenda. However, her laughing, smiling and waving to people outside of the Court, does not assist her case in my view and does substantially undermine her presentation as a victim of domestic abuse.
That is not to say that every victim, has to present as a downtrodden dowdy person who has been under the influence of a third party, however, it makes her case all the more difficult to present with the way in which she appears to be conducting herself outside of the court room and inside.
The other issue that makes this matter so difficult to call, is that there is no doubt that Johnny Depp has had problems with narcotic abuse that may have meant at times he was unaware of what he was doing. However, was he sufficiently unaware to have conducted himself in the way that Amber Heard is suggesting? The big question mark over all of this for someone who specialises in this area is why would Johnny Depp take this action knowing that he was going to be exposed to such severe allegations which appear to be growing in stature from Amber Heard by the minute, including an allegation that he pushed his previous girlfriend Kate Moss down the stairs, an allegation that appears not to have been addressed yet by either Kate Moss or Johnny Depp. No doubt it will be in due course and we may even see a statement from Kate Moss or her appearance at Court.
It is an extremely high strategy move to issue libel proceedings against the newspaper and its editor knowing that your ex-spouse will be called in evidence and all of the issues that you are seeking to eradicate from affecting your career will be brought to the fore and made even more public to those that did know about them before. So what has motivated Johnny Depp to take proceedings for libel in such a public way and push for this in preliminary hearings that would have made clear to him the kind of evidence that he might be facing?
To many practitioners it appears that there are two possibilities: –
- Either the impact of the article has had such a profound affect on his career that he had no choice but to take libel proceedings to try to clear his name; or
- That he feels so profoundly distressed at the unfounded allegations made against him that he felt they could not be allowed to stand under any circumstances and that he was prepared to put himself through utter despair that he knew would come because the allegations are patently untrue.
As a practitioner my sympathises lie with the Judge in having to make a final decision in relation to these allegations and counter allegations. If the Sun Newspaper establish that Amber Heard’s testimony is true and the Judge finds in their favour, this means that Johnny Depp is a serial abuser and his career in Hollywood, if it is not already over, will be utterly diminished. If on the other hand, Amber Heard is found to be manipulative, lying, and embellishing her evidence for her own motives at the time of the divorce and to promote her own career and the Judge finds in favour of Johnny Depp, then substantial damages will have to be paid to compensate him for his losses.
However, it seems to me that whoever wins the outcome of this battle, there is ultimately no winner. Either way, if Amber Heard is found to be lying about her domestic abuse, there will be those that continue to support her and will forever claim that victims of domestic abuse are unfairly treated. This however is a case that does not assist victims of domestic abuse who go through much trauma and are not in a position to deal with matters in such a public way. There are literally thousands of women and men who silently go through issues of domestic abuse every day of the week and live in utter misery. This has never been more emphasized than during the lockdown period when they have been completely isolated and unable to escape from their abusers.
In contrast a victim in those circumstances of that of Amber Heard who herself has admitted to hitting Johnny Depp, drinking to excess, taking drugs and smashing items in the home, including bottles etc, paint two entirely different pictures of a victim of domestic abuse.
Johnny Depp is suggesting that he himself has been a victim of domestic abuse throughout the relationship. The public in general find it very difficult to find sympathy with male domestic abuse in the same way as they do female domestic abuse. Accordingly, if Johnny Depp is successful, there will still be those that doubt the veracity of his case as so many male victims of domestic abuse find.
However, as someone who has acted for many men who have found themselves on the receiving end of female domestic abuse caused by excessive drinking, drug taking or personality defects on the part of their wives or their partners, they are not always treated with the same degree of empathy as a woman in the same position.
It is a sad fact that if Amber Heard is found to have embellished or lied about the circumstances of the purported abuse, she will set that cause of domestic violence dramatically and in a way that makes the public, the police and any other entities that deal with these issues even more sceptical about allegations.
Whoever is the real victim in this matter, is not a matter for me to Judge, but I have no doubt that the true ultimate victims of this case will be those that are and continue to suffer at the hands of an abuser and who may not be believed in the future.