How Johnny Depp won his defamation case in the US but lost in the UK

How Johnny Depp shocked the legal world and won his defamation case against Amber Heard in the US legal system after losing in the UK courts that are believed to be a far better venue for plaintiffs claiming libel

  • Johnny Depp won his US defamation trial after losing a similar case in the UK
  • In 2020, Depp sued The Sun newspaper for branding him a ‘wife beater’ 
  • The UK judge dismissed Depp’s claim saying the newspaper had proved the claim to be ‘substantially true’
  • Wednesday, a jury in Virginia ruled in favor of all of Depp’s defamation claims against Heard, finding that she had falsely accused him of domestic abuse
  • Legal experts claim having a jury trial was critical to Depp securing a favorable verdict in the US trial
  • Additionally, Depp’s lawyers were able to portray him as a victim instead of an alleged domestic abuser 

Johnny Depp and his attorneys shocked many legal experts by winning his US defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard after having previously lost a similar libel case in the UK.

After 23 days of testimony and less than three days of deliberation, a jury ruled in favor of all three of Depp’s claims against Heard, finding that she had falsely and willfully accused him of domestic abuse with the intention of damaging his reputation.

In 2020, Depp lost a libel case in the UK, after the actor had sued The Sun, a British tabloid, for calling him a ‘wife beater.’

In that case, a judge concluded that much of the domestic abuse that Heard alleged had, in fact, occurred. 

That is why Depp’s victory in the US legal system, which sets a higher bar for proving libel of a public figure, came as a surprise to some legal analysts. 

It is traditionally easier to win a libel lawsuit in the UK because in that legal system the defendant has to prove the truth of their allegedly defamatory statements, whereas in the US, it’s the plaintiff who has to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements were false.

Johnny Depp proved victorious in his American defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard after having previously lost his case in the UK, despite the notion that it’s easier to prevail in a libel case in Great Britain than in the US. Depp is seen waving to supporters outside the Fairfax County Courthouse on May 27

For a public figure plaintiff in the US it’s even harder, because he has to prove the statements were also made with ‘actual malice,’ meaning the defendant knew the statements were false when she made them. spoke with several legal experts on Thursday to explain the key differences between trial and what may have tipped the scales in the Depp’s favor.

Attorney Nicole Haff, partner and Chair of the Litigation Department at Romano Law, said that she believes the fact that Depp had a jury trial was a huge factor in his win.


Johnny Depp lost a libel case against the Sun newspaper in 2020 after it called him a wife beater. The decision was made by a single judge, rather than a jury. As Johnny said himself on the stand in the US, the UK case had various limitations. Ms Heard was not a party to those proceedings and the disclosure and evidence from her was therefore severely limited. There were no experts, in contrast to the wealth of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, metadata experts and others in the US trial. Certain elements, such as Ms Heard’s failure to pay the proceeds from her divorce to charity, despite stating under oath in the UK that she had donated all of it, were not yet discovered at the time of the UK trial. Crucially, due to the format of UK proceedings, Johnny was unable to give oral evidence of his own position, as opposed to just cross examination from the Sun’s counsel, which will arguably have had the biggest impact on the jury in the US.

We are delighted that Johnny got his chance to explain what he went through, as painful as that must have been.

In the aftermath of the UK judgment, Johnny said that it would not change his fight to tell the truth, that his resolve remained strong, and that he intended to prove that the allegations him were false. We believe that he has now finally managed to achieve that, and we could not be happier for him.

 – Legal spokesperson from Schillings

‘Juries are unpredictable,’ she said. ‘The UK case was decided by a judge and not a jury. Many trial techniques that are effective on jurors just don’t work on judges.  

‘Remember, most judges were trial attorneys before taking the bench, so trial technique holds less weight with a judge.’

Criminal attorney Joshua Ritter, who previously served as a prosecutor with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, agreed with Haff’s analysis.

‘The system we have here is a jury of your peers. Judges are not in the category of our peers. They live their lives day-in and day-out analyzing the law, which is different than than our ‘peers,” he said. ‘Juries look at cases from a much more common sense, Plain Joe way.

‘Heard testified in such a ‘dramatic, emotional’ way and jurors used common sense to say ‘we don’t believe you’re being truthful with us,” Ritter said.

He argued that if jurors thought Heard was lying on some accounts, it would lead them to believe she could be lying on others. 

‘Heard couldn’t produce evidence to collaborate her story so the jury thinks ‘at best you’re exaggerating to us, at the worst you’re lying,” he added.

In the US case, Depp’s attorneys employed the DARVO strategy, an acronym for deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender, which transformed Depp from the alleged abuser to the victim.

‘Depp’s team did a masterful job on all fronts of that type of strategy,’ Ritter said. ‘They gave not an inch to anything Heard had to testify too, which is hard when you’re dealing with a female alleged victim of both of domestic and sexual violence. 

‘You have to go after that person in cross examination with a delicate touch, but Heard pushing back and being argumentative gave them permission to go against her.’

Ritter concluded that, ‘Depp did a good job of presenting himself as ‘far more authentic and believable as someone who had been suffering at the hands of domestic violence’ than Heard, even though he wasn’t in the trial as a victim.’

Haff echoed the claim, telling ‘In the US case, Depp’s team effectively called Heard’s credibility into question.’

‘This is important because Depp’s attorneys had to convince the jury that the statements in Heard’s 2018 op-ed were either knowingly false or were made with reckless disregard for the truth. Legally, this is a difficult task. They did this by attacking Heard’s credibility, especially as it relates to Depp. 

‘Depp’s team presented evidence that the relationship between the actors was highly dysfunctional. Depp’s lawyers also painted Heard as the abuser and Depp as the good guy and victim of abuse.’

Depp’s British law firm Schillings told Thursday that his ‘UK case had various limitations’ that likely impacted the verdict, including the absence of a jury, Heard acting as only a witness instead of a party in the case, lack of expert testimony and Depp’s inability to give oral evidence of his own position. He is pictured leaving the Royal Courts of Justice in London on February 26, 2020

Haff also believes that the testimony of Kate Moss, who was called as a surprise last-minute witness by Depp’s team and denied a rumor cited by Heard that Depp once pushed her down the stairs, was ‘also not helpful to Heard.’

Lastly, the experts believe the media circus surrounding the US trial undoubtedly played a role in the verdict.

Although the jury was not sequestered, they were instructed not to watch the news, follow media media on the case or conduct their own research.

However, both lawyers argue it was nearly impossible that the in-court presence of the media and publicity of the trial did not hold weight in their minds. 

‘Given the length of this trial and the massive amount of publicity it received, it’s hard to imagine that all of the jurors abided by the judge’s instruction,’ Haff argued.

‘It would be hard to think they didn’t run into media coverage on accident,’ Ritter added. ‘They knew the media was in the courtroom. It had to have had effect on the jury in some way, but I don’t think it effected their verdict in anyway that was a misconduct of justice.

Experts also believe the fact that Depp had a jury trial was a huge factor in tipping the US case in his favor. One legal analyst argue ‘juries are unpredictable’ while another said they look at evidence presented in court with a ‘common sense’ approach. Heard is pictured on May 26, testifying during the defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court

In the end, the US jury awarded Depp $15million in total – $10million in compensation and $5million in punitive damages. 

The judge later capped the damages at the Virginia commonwealth’s legal maximum of $350,000 in punitive damages leaving Depp with a total of $8.35million.

Heard won just one of her three countersuit claims, which related to statements made by Depp’s lawyer suggesting she and friends had trashed their apartment before calling the police. 

She was awarded just $2million in compensatory damages out of the $100million she was seeking, and zero dollars in punitive damages. Her spokesperson Alafair Hall said she plans to appeal the verdict. 

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