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Not just a day in court for Johnny Depp: reflections on a lengthy court battle

Johnny Depp has today lost his High Court case against The Sun Newspaper for publishing an article stating that he is a “wife beater”. Mr Justice Nichol found that the newspaper was justified in reporting that he was violent towards his ex-wife on at least one occasion during their relationship.

Although the report says that Johnny Deep provided the necessary element of his cause of action in libel, the court found that what was published in the article was substantially true. The judgment followed a three week trial in the High Court whereby Johnny Depp refuted all allegations of abuse and made many counter allegations of abuse against his ex-wife.

While the result of the case shows that domestic abuse victims are being taken seriously, it is disappointing that, due to the profile of those involved, such a lengthy court battle ensued at considerable cost, which would not be afforded to other victims in similar situations.

The high-profile nature of this case meant that it was given a substantial amount of time and resource, which seems to me to be completely unnecessary. While, undoubtedly, cases with cross allegations of abuse by both parties are complex, we’ve worked with many clients in similar cases and, in reality, it is very rare for witnesses to be allowed to give evidence, and the court would usually not allow (and do not have time) to give more than one day, which is usually permitted.

At a time where the court system has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, to be given three weeks of High Court time is unacceptable. If this was a domestic abuse case and had been held within the family courts, overseen by a district judge, it would have been a much simpler process, all while still providing the necessary protection to the victim. It is disappointing to see this reflected in our justice system when there is a significant backlog of cases, involving serious allegations which cannot get a court listing at all.

However, it is hoped that this case will encourage other victims of domestic violence to come forward and seek the protection that they need. In addition to the Me Too Movement and the Domestic Abuse Bill which is currently going through parliament, this case will highlight that the courts do listen, regardless of wealth or stature.