If there’s anything messier than navigating multiple legal battles, it’s trying to get through those legal battles in the midst of a pandemic. Just ask Johnny Depp. His most recent libel lawsuit against The Sun over Amber Heard's domestic violence allegations has been put on hold because of coronavirus.
In 2018, The Sun published an article that expressed dubiousness as to whether or not J.K. Rowling was happy about Johnny Depp’s role in Fantastic Beasts, given the domestic abuse allegations Amber Heard had made against him. Johnny Depp is suing the publication for libel on the grounds that they called him a “wife beater” in the article.
But the lawsuit seems destined to become quite intense. In order to defend itself in court, News Group Newspapers, which owns The Sun, has sought numerous disclosures from Johnny Depp’s team surrounding his personal life and relationship with Amber Heard. That includes requesting testimony from eyewitnesses to a 2016 event in which the Los Angeles police were called to the former couple’s home to investigate a claim about domestic violence. Basically, they’re trying to compile enough evidence that labeling him a wife beater was not inaccurate.
At first, it seemed as though the trial, which was due to begin in London on March 23, would go on as scheduled. Despite the growing global threat of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the 24 eyewitnesses in the trial were going to appear via video stream. And the UK courts are mostly operating normally at the moment, as that nation is currently taking less stringent measures toward social distancing than many others. But then, the UK High Court began to examine the many logistical challenges in the case.
First, there’s the fact that the key people involved in the trial are scattered all over the world. Amber Heard is in Los Angeles. Johnny Depp is in France, which is more or less locked down. And, perhaps most importantly, one person on Johnny Depp’s legal team is currently self-isolating due to coronavirus.
The judge also said that there were some extraordinary variables at play. What if, for example, some of the trial’s participants got sick at some point during the trial? After weighing all of these factors, and after multiple hearings, UK High Court Judge Andrew Nicol decided the trial cannot continue as scheduled.
While a lawyer for News Group Newspapers claimed Johnny Depp was trying to avoid facing the accusations made against him, a statement from one of the actor’s lawyers said that’s not the case (via THR):
Mr. Depp has spent years seeking justice. The Judge hearing Mr. Depp’s defamation case against the Sun raised safety and practicality concerns. Although the case is extremely important to Mr. Depp, he was also uneasy about putting anyone else in harm’s way for the sake of it.
Johnny Depp is also locked in another legal battle that could hang in the balance for a while -- a defamation suit against Amber Heard, in which he claims the actress sabotaged his role in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise when she published an op-ed detailing alleged abuse. In that trial, many prominent figures in his life, including James Franco and Winona Ryder, have been asked to testify or have come forward in his defense as character witnesses. There’s no official word yet on when Johnny Depp’s libel case against The Sun will proceed.