Johnny Depp’s explosive libel case against a British tabloid that accused him of beating ex-wife Amber Heard wrapped up in a London court on Tuesday with the parties — and the world — now eagerly awaiting a verdict.
In what’s been dubbed the biggest English libel case of the 21st Century, Depp, 57, sued The Sun newspaper over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater” — allegations he vehemently denies.
Over the course of the three-week trial, the Hollywood couple detailed their toxic relationship in shocking testimony that also provided a grim look at Hollywood stardom, detailing Depp’s life of drugs, alcohol and emotional turmoil.
Here’s when to expect a decision in the case and a look at how the chips could fall for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star:
What is being decided?
Despite the at-times stomach-churning accusations Depp and Heard lobbed at each other on the witness stand — neither of them are actually on trial.
Here, the burden is on the defendants — The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton and publisher News Group Newspapers — to prove that the tabloid’s story about Depp was accurate.
Their prime witness is the 34-year-old “Justice League” actress, who testified that her ex-husband had beaten her more than a dozen times during their relationship.
“Proving truth is no easy task when that burden is placed on the defendant’s shoulders, although it does happen,” said Ryan Dunleavy, a partner at UK law firm Stewarts and head of its Media Disputes division.
When will the judge render his verdict?
It could take anywhere from a few weeks to two or three months for the verdict to come down as Judge Andrew Nicol considers the mass of information in the case, legal experts told The Post.
“This is a tricky case for a judge to consider because of the volume of evidence and the complex factual, rather than legal, dimensions to it,” Dunleavy said.
“The judge will need to go through all the documents and witness evidence in painstaking detail before reaching a verdict.”
No judge likes to see their decisions appealed, especially with such a high-profile case, Dunleavy added.
“The judge will want to ensure they get this decision right, although that still does not guarantee it will not be appealed.”
How much could Depp get if he wins?
While British libel law is widely considered to favor claimants, like Depp, over defendants, the Hollywood superstar probably won’t win big, experts said.
General damages are handed for distress or to help absolve someone’s reputation, with the upper limit generally standing at around £300,000 (about $388,000) “but such a sum is extremely rare,” explained Dunleavy.
“The defendants’ allegations about Depp have been widely disseminated, and the extent of publication and its impact will be taken into consideration, but damages for distress and vindication in the English Media and Communications Court rarely breach the £100,000 mark,” the attorney said.
“It almost beggars belief that anyone rational has taken this case to court,” said Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at legal firm Howard Kennedy. “At some level, mud sticks.”
However, a win for Depp could help him land an injunction against the tabloid.
“He would also get an injunction barring The Sun from repeating the libelous allegations against him,” said UK defamation and privacy law expert Daniel Taylor, of Taylor Hampton Solicitors.
What happens if Depp loses?
The “Edward Scissorhands” actor stands to lose a lot more if the judge rules in The Sun’s favor than he would gain if he won.
If Depp loses, he would have to pay both his and The Sun’s legal costs, Dunleavy explained, which would likely eclipse any damages he would be paid if he won. Dunleavy estimates that Depp’s legal fees alone would be in the seven figures or more.
“The loser pays the winner’s cost. If The Sun wins the case, then Johnny Depp has to pay all their costs, and if Johnny Depp wins the case, The Sun has to pay his costs,” he told The Post.
What happens next?
Whichever side wins, the verdict can be appealed all the way to the UK Supreme Court — which also means the legal costs could just be starting, the experts said.
Depp is also suing Heard for $50 million in Virginia over a Washington Post op-ed she penned about her experience as a victim of domestic violence. While he wasn’t named in the piece, he insists it was strongly inferred he was the perpetrator.
A trial in that suit is set to be held next year, but if Depp loses in London, “he’s almost certain to lose that American case,” said Stephens.
“So this is in some ways a dress rehearsal for the second case.”
With Post wires
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