Depp, Heard have plenty to lose from libel trial, says expert

London – Hollywood star Johnny Depp wrapped up five days of gruelling testimony Monday in a libel trial that has exposed the dark underbelly of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

He is suing the publisher and executive editor of Britain’s Sun tabloid newspaper over a 2018 story branding him a “wife beater”.

The 57-year-old US actor denies abusing US actress Amber Heard, 34, during a rocky two-year marriage that ended in a messy 2017 divorce and several lawsuits.

But he has admitted a debilitating drug habit and allowed the defence to air graphic details of 14 assault allegations that made headlines around the world.

Some legal experts following the High Court hearing in London question why the 57-year-old US actor decided to put himself through the three-week ordeal given the subject matter being aired.

“He’s been extremely ill-advised to pursue this,” said Mark Stephens, a leading media specialist at London law firm Howard Kennedy.

“To expose (difficult divorces) to forensic examination is the height of stupidity or hubris.” 

He added both Depp and Heard had plenty to lose and little to gain from the proceedings.

“His reputation will be permanently stained if he is found to be abusive.” And “if Heard is not to be believed, she will find it very hard to find work in Hollywood”.

British libel law puts the burden of proof on the defence and gives Depp the initial advantage.

But the judge told Heard her upcoming testimony would not be bound by “confidentiality restrictions” agreed in the divorce.

Depp may find it even harder to clear his name in a separate defamation lawsuit he filed over an op-ed about the alleged abuse that Heard wrote in The Washington Post.

That hearing is expected to begin in August in Virginia under US laws. putting the burden of proof on Depp. - AFP