Actor Johnny Depp has lost his lawsuit against the British newspaper The Sun, which had claimed he had beaten his former wife Amber Heard.
The couple met in 2011 during production of “The Rum Diary,” and married in 2015. She was 22 and he was 45. Heard filed for divorce about a year later. She had obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp after claiming he had struck her. However, she later withdrew the claim and in 2017 agreed to a 7 million dollar divorce settlement.
Defamation is a communication that harms the reputation of another, so as to lower him in the opinion of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him. For example, those communications that expose another to hatred, ridicule, or contempt, or reflect unfavorably upon one’s personal morality or integrity are defamatory. One who is defamed may suffer embarrassment and humiliation, as well as economic damages, such as the loss of a job or the ability to earn a living. There are a number of defenses and privileges in defamation law in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Perhaps the most important privilege is truth.
If your remarks hurt someone’s reputation, but your remarks are true, you are absolutely privileged in the United States. An absolute privilege cannot be lost through bad faith or abuse. So, even if you maliciously defame another person, you will be privileged if the statement is true. Truth is an absolute privilege because our society values truth more than a person’s reputation.
In general, it is easier for a plaintiff to prevail in the United Kingdom on a defamation claim than in the United States. In the United Kingdom the burden of proof to prove the libel (written defamation) is substantially true rests on the defendant. In the United States, the burden is on the plaintiff who has to prove the statement is false in cases involving matters of public concern or public figures, and  that it was made recklessly or intentionally knowing it was false. This is why celebrities rarely sue for defamation in the United States.
Because this case was under United Kingdom law, the burden was on The Sun newspaper to prove that the defamatory remark was true. And it was successful at that task by introducing photos, audio recordings and text messages as evidence that Depp beat his wife, causing her significant injuries, and on occasion, leading her to fear for her life. In addition,  Heard testified that he had assaulted her.
Depp admitted long-term problems with drugs and alcohol but said the allegations that he was violent toward Heard were “completely untrue.” Depp described a troubled childhood. His home life, he said, was not stable or safe and he had been beaten as a child for trivial matters. He said that experience had turned him against violence of any sort. Heard also gave an account of a troubled home life. She said that both her parents were alcoholics. She said that her father had been violent to her mother.
After a long trial, the court found for the publisher on the basis that the statement alleging Depp had beaten Heard was substantially true. Depp’s attorneys claim they plan to appeal. He is also suing Heard in a U.S. court, after she published an op-ed in The Washington Post identifying herself as a survivor of sexual and physical violence.
Read the Full Decision.