How The Depp-Heard Verdict Takes Away From The Core Issue Of Domestic Violence

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After six gruelling weeks of deliberation a verdict has been given on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard case in the US.

A jury found that Johnny Depp was defamed by his ex-wife Amber Heard in a 2018 opinion piece she wrote for Washington Post about domestic violence. The outcome aligns with the online response that glorified Johnny Depp and villainised Amber Heard to the detriment of domestic violence survivors.

“I’m deeply saddened by this judgement. It’s such a huge setback for the way our society deals with gendered violence,” said Hannah Marshall lawyer and partner at Marque Lawyers.

The Depp Heard Verdict

The jury awarded Johnny Depp $10.35 million US dollars in damages after finding that Depp was defamed by Heard when she described herself in an opinion piece as a “public figure representing domestic abuse” and had acted in “malice” in doing so.

That article was actually fronted by the American Civil Liberties Union, which defends individual rights to all people, and never mentioned Depp by name. But Depp argued that the article referred to their marriage, and that the fallout from the article cost him movie deals like the sixth Pirates of The Caribbean.

Depp continues to deny ever abusing Amber Heard or any other woman meanwhile Heard maintains that her allegations of Depp’s physical abuse are true.

The jury bizarrely also awarded Ms. Heard $2 million in damages after it was found that one of Depp’s lawyers defamed her when he said that her account of abuse was a “hoax.”

A Lawyer Specialising In Defamation On The Outcome

It’s important to note that the outcome only delivered a verdict on whether or not Heard had defamed Depp, not on whether either party is a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence or abuse and no criminal charges were laid.

But the outcome of the case risks to excuse Depp’s alleged abuse and ultimately punishes Heard for speaking out.

Hannah Marshall from Marque Lawyers explained that the ultimate question of the case was about whether the article that Heard wrote was defamatory or not. What follows that question is whether the imputations from the article are true.

“That’s where the allegations of violence really became relevant in the Depp and Heard case. And sadly enough, more regularly, we’re seeing defamation cases turn into quasi criminal trials of the underlying allegations dealt within a civil court to a civil standard of proof,” Marshall said.

Marshall pointed out that’s not what defamation was meant for, and that “the most concerning effect of [defamation] is that it’s placing the press in the position of the prosecutor. That that’s not how the press is supposed to operate in terms of supporting our democracy.”

From a legal perspective Marshall told Junkee that she’s reasonably surprised at the outcome given its inconsistency or difference from the UK defamation case where similar facts were an issue even though the publication was different.

That UK case is when Johnny Depp sued tabloid newspaper The Sun after they called him a “wife beater” in a headline. The verdict of that case found there was evidence that Depp had assaulted Heard, making the headline true which makes the latest verdict even all the more at odds.

“There’s so many things to take from this case. The way that a jury trial can operate, the impact of social media and the way that it affects the prospects of obtaining justice. I mean what does justice even mean in a case like this?”

How Defamation Cases Can Take Away From The Issues At Heart

In an online statement, Amber Heard shared how heartbroken she is over what the outcome means for other victim-survivors, and how it “sets back the idea that violence against is to be taken seriously”.

Already, a forensic psychologist Jessica Taylor is saying that she’s been contacted by “hundreds” of abuse survivors who want to retract statements they made in the press or pull out court cases against their abusers, because of the Heard-Depp trial.

Sadly, the Depp Heard case was one of the highest-profile civil cases of the #MeToo era to ever go to trial.

And if Australia is anything to go by, the day Geoffrey Rush won his defamation case the #MeToo movement in Australia virtually stopped dead.

“What is justice and how does defamation deliver justice? It can’t… no one can unwind and erase people’s memories of a story.

It can’t actually undo what harm is done. If someone makes out a case in defamation, all it does is place monetary value on it. And that just makes it ripe ground for mistreatment by powerful, wealthy people. And sadly, I think we’re seeing more and more of that happening.”