Johnny Depp is set to find out whether his High Court libel claim against The Sun over allegations he was violent towards ex-wife Amber Heard can go ahead next week.
The 57-year-old actor is suing the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an April 2018 article which referred to Mr Depp as a “wife beater”.
The article related to allegations made against Mr Depp by actress Ms Heard, 34, that he was violent towards her during their marriage – claims he strenuously denies.
In a last-ditch attempt to derail the High Court trial, due to start next Tuesday, NGN’s legal team asked Mr Justice Nicol to strike out Mr Depp’s claim.
Adam Wolanski QC argued the Hollywood star was in “serious” breach of a court order because he had not given NGN’s legal team what he referred to as the “Australia drugs texts” between Mr Depp and his assistant, Nathan Holmes.
The messages, sent in late February and early March 2015 – shortly before an alleged incident in Australia between Mr Depp and Ms Heard, which she claims was “a three-day ordeal of physical assaults” – demonstrated that Mr Depp was trying to get drugs during the Australia visit, Mr Wolanski said.
He told the court that references to “happy pills” and “whitey stuff” showed Mr Depp was trying to obtain MDMA and cocaine, which he argued was “profoundly damaging to his case”.
In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol found that Mr Depp had breached an “unless order” requiring him to disclose documents from separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US – which include the text messages.
The judge said: “The Australian drug texts were adverse to the claimant’s pleaded case and/or were supportive of the defendants’ pleaded case.”
However, Mr Depp’s legal team made an application for “relief from sanctions” which, if successful, will mean the trial goes ahead despite the actor’s breach.
Mr Justice Nicol will give his ruling on Mr Depp’s application on Thursday morning.
At a hearing earlier this week, Mr Depp’s barrister David Sherborne said the trial should go ahead so the actor can have “vindication” over the published allegations and argued that it would be “wholly disproportionate” to strike out the actor’s claim.
However, lawyers for NGN said the trial should not go ahead and that the disclosure exercise undertaken by Mr Depp’s lawyers was “conducted at the very least totally incompetently and quite possibly with a view to the deliberate withholding of damaging documents”.
Mr Wolanski said: “In my submission, unless the whole disclosure exercise is carried out afresh with a different legal team, the defendants cannot have a fair trial.”
The barrister also said Mr Depp can have “vindication, if he is entitled to it” in separate libel proceedings brought against Ms Heard in the US.
The alleged incident in Australia is one of 14 separate allegations of domestic violence, between early 2013 and May 2016, that NGN relies on in its pleaded defence to Mr Depp’s claim.
Mr Justice Nicol is also expected to rule on Mr Depp’s application for an order requiring Ms Heard to disclose evidence, including a covert audio recording made of a conversation between herself and her former husband in July 2016.
The actor has also asked for “all communications” between Ms Heard and a contact saved in her phone as “Rocketman”, who Mr Depp claims is SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, and between her and actor James Franco.
A three-week trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London – which was due to start in March, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic – is listed to begin on July 7, with Mr Depp’s former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder among the witnesses expected to give evidence.
The court has heard Mr Depp intends to travel from his home in France to London to give evidence, while Ms Heard is believed to have already travelled to the UK from California.
The libel claim against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of publication of an article in The Sun in April 2018, under the headline: “Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
Mr Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US, which the court heard are set for trial next year.
The pair met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.
In May 2016, Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Mr Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.
The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Ms Heard donating her seven million US dollars (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.