Amber Heard can be present in court for Johnny Depp’s testimony in libel trial against The Sun, judge rules

Amber Heard can be present in court for Johnny Depp’s testimony in libel trial against The Sun, judge rules
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp (Getty Images)

Johnny Depp’s ex-wife, Amber Heard, can attend her ex-husband’s libel trial against the British tabloid newspaper The Sun. In a court order published on Saturday, July 4, trial judge Andrew Nicol said that excluding Heard from the London courtroom before she testifies in the case “would inhibit the defendants in the conduct of their defense.”

Earlier, Depp's lawyers had sought to ban Heard from attending the trial proceedings unless the 34-year-old actress and model had to testify. They argued that her evidence would be more reliable if she was not present in court when Depp was cross-examined. This is not a set precedent for civil cases. In criminal cases, witnesses cannot be present in court while others are giving evidence. In civil cases, however, this is possible.

Judge Nicol said that while Heard was “not a party”, defendants NGN and Wootton “rely heavily on the information which Ms. Heard can provide”.

“[Heard] will not be in a position to give instructions to (News Group Newspapers’ lawyers), but she can provide information on which the defendants may choose to act,” he said, adding, “There is a benefit to the defendants in her being able to do that near-instantaneously in the course of Mr. Depp’s cross-examination and, in my view, it would be unfair to the defendants to deprive them of that advantage.”

Depp is suing The Sun's publisher, News Group Newspapers, and executive editor, Dan Wootton, over a 2018 article claiming the actor was violent and abusive and described Depp as a “wife-beater”. The article was referencing claims made by Heard. He has denied the allegations.

The trial that was supposed to be conducted in March was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is scheduled to start Tuesday, July 7, and last three weeks. Witnesses in the trial are likely to include Depp's ex-partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, both of whom have submitted statements supporting the 57-year-old actor.

Earlier on Thursday, July 2, Judge Nicol rejected an attempt by The Sun to quash the libel suit. The Sun’s lawyers reportedly applied for the case to be dismissed on the grounds that Depp failed to disclose text messages he exchanged with an assistant showing that he tried to buy “MDMA and other narcotics” while he was in Australia with Heard in 2015. Judge Nicol ruled that Depp had breached the disclosure order, but granted him “relief from sanctions”. 

He also rejected an attempt by Depp’s lawyers to force Heard to disclose evidence including communications with actor James Franco and Space-X founder Elon Musk, with whom she allegedly had affairs while she was with the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ actor.

“The central issue for the defense of truth is whether Mr. Depp assaulted Ms. Heard,” Judge Nicol said. “Even if she had been unfaithful to him, that would be irrelevant on that central issue. I am not therefore persuaded that these categories of documents are necessary for the fair disposal of the litigation.”

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