Amber Heard’s claim that she gave her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) divorce settlement to charity was a “calculated and manipulative lie”, Johnny Depp’s lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.
The Hollywood star is trying to overturn a damning High Court ruling that he assaulted his ex-wife and put her in fear for her life, and is asking the Court of Appeal to order a retrial of his libel claim against The Sun.
Following a three-week trial in July last year, Mr Justice Nicol ruled that Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Ms Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.
The judge found that an April 2018 column calling Mr Depp a “wife beater” was “substantially true”.
But the actor claims he “did not receive a fair trial” and is applying for permission to appeal against the ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Thursday.
His barrister Andrew Caldecott QC applied for permission to rely on “fresh evidence” that Ms Heard did not donate her divorce settlement to charity.
After the couple divorced in 2016, Ms Heard said she would split the seven million US dollars between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
But, Mr Caldecott said, the hospital wrote to Mr Depp’s business adviser in 2019 to say Ms Heard had not made “any payments”.
The court heard she gave just 100,000 dollars (£72,000) to the hospital and 450,000 dollars (£322,000) to the ACLU, although she claims she made a further 500,000 dollar (£358,000) donation to the second charity anonymously.
In written submissions, Mr Caldecott said the pledges “strengthened Ms Heard’s credit in an exceptional way”.
But, he added, that was a “calculated and manipulative lie, designed to achieve a potent favourable impression from the outset”.
In November, Mr Justice Nicol rejected Mr Depp’s contention that Ms Heard was a “gold-digger”, saying in his ruling: “Her donation of the seven million US dollars to charity is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger.”
Mr Caldecott argued that the if “the truth about the charity claim emerged at the trial, it would have materially affected Mr Justice Nicol’s consideration of Ms Heard’s evidence as a whole”.
He said: “The evidence presented a wholly exceptional act of philanthropy, which would have deeply impressed any reasonable person.
“Her public statements expressly stated that the ACLU donation had victims of domestic violence specifically in mind.
“The subliminal message of the charity claim was in any event clear: Ms Heard would not wish to keep any of Mr Depp’s money, because he had subjected her to serious violence.
“The evidence presented, and was obviously intended to present, her in the strongest terms as both virtuous and a victim.”
Mr Caldecott said Mr Depp “had his suspicions about Ms Heard’s evidence” at the time of the trial, “but he had no evidence to support them”.
The barrister added: “Ms Heard took every available step to suppress the evidence.”
Adam Wolanski QC, representing the Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN), said in written submissions that Mr Depp’s “fresh evidence” was said to support “a theory that Ms Heard was a ‘gold-digger’”.
But, he said, “the evidence is not ‘fresh’ at all, since it could have been obtained with reasonable diligence for (the) trial”.
Mr Wolanski added: “The ‘fresh’ evidence – which the respondents accept is apparently credible insofar as it shows that Ms Heard has not yet finished making her pledged payments to the charities – only goes to a highly peripheral and unpleaded matter and is of no relevance to the pleaded issues, i.e. the 14 assaults, that Mr Justice Nicol had to decide.
“The evidence would have had no impact on Ms Heard’s credibility had it been before the trial judge, since it does not demonstrate that Ms Heard or any of the respondents’ witnesses lied.”
She told the court: “The application to admit the evidence should therefore be refused … (and) the application for permission to appeal should be dismissed.”
Mr Depp sued NGN in June 2018 over the column by the newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Ms Heard.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol concluded that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN in its defence of the actor’s claim did occur.
The judge also found Mr Depp put Ms Heard in “fear for her life” on three occasions, including one the actress described as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015.
But Mr Depp’s legal team claims Mr Justice Nicol “failed to examine the competing accounts of each incident, or to explain whether he found them proved and, if so, on what basis”.
They also argue “the judge should have analysed the extent to which Ms Heard’s evidence undermined her credibility in relation to her allegations of physical assault/injury”.
Just days after the ruling in November, Mr Depp announced he had been asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – the very role which prompted Mr Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” Mr Depp was cast in the film.
Mr Depp is embroiled in a separate libel battle in the US, having sued Ms Heard personally over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse but did not mention the actor by name.
Mr Wolanski said the actor brought the application to appeal the High Court ruling to promote his position in the US trial “by continuing publicly to denigrate the supposedly “inequitable” English legal process, at least until after the US trial has concluded”.
The actor’s 50 million dollar (£35 million) US case against Ms Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.
The Court of Appeal hearing, which is being livestreamed on the court’s YouTube channel, is due to conclude on Thursday.
It is yet not known if Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Dingemans will give a ruling on Thursday, or reserve their decision to a later date.