Johnny Depp v Amber Heard: playing out your private life in public
Domestic Abuse

Johnny Depp v Amber Heard: playing out your private life in public

Posted by
James Harbottle
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Johnny Depp v Amber Heard: playing out your private life in public

For the last month the world has eagerly watched the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard defamation trial, as the two actors have exchanged lurid alleged details of their private lives.

Seeing two Hollywood stars fighting out such a battle in court may be titillating for many, but there are at least two important points to make about this public spectacle.

But before we look at those, we need to look briefly at the background to the case, and some of what has been said.

Abuse allegations

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard began their relationship in 2012. They were married in February 2015. There are no children of the marriage, but both Depp and Heard have children of their own: Depp’s two children are both grown up, and Heard’s daughter was born, via a surrogate mother, last year.

The marriage soon broke down and in May 2016 Heard filed for divorce. Within the divorce proceedings Heard obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp, alleging that he had been verbally and physically abusive towards her throughout their relationship.

Depp denied the allegations, and a settlement was eventually reached in 2017, whereby Depp paid Heard the sum of $7 million. The settlement included a non-disclosure agreement which prevented either party from discussing their relationship publicly.

Despite this, matters did not end there.

In 2018 an article was published in The Sun newspaper which described Depp as a “wife-beater”. Depp sued for libel, in the High Court in London. The newspaper defended the case, and made allegations of 14 incidents of violence by Depp against Heard. In 2020 the High Court found 12 of those allegations to be proven.

Still that was not the end of the matter. In 2018 Heard had written a piece for The Washington Post, in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse, albeit without mentioning Depp by name. That article led to Depp issuing the present defamation proceedings. playing out your private life in public

In the course of the proceedings Depp has made various allegations against Heard, including that she had hit him, and that she had thrown various items at him. Heard, meanwhile, countered with allegations that Depp had hit her and sexually assaulted her.

The case is continuing.

So what important points can we glean from all of this?

Don’t be put off

The first point is not to be put off from taking your own case to court.

Seeing a court case about domestic abuse being played out so publicly may deter a victim from going to court to seek an injunction protecting them from the abuse. But they should certainly not be put off, for two main reasons.

Firstly, this is a civil, not a family case. An application for an injunction is to a family court. The family court (at least in England and Wales) will not allow the proceedings to be broadcast in any way.

Secondly, the family court will seek to protect the victim.

Protections for victims of abuse in court have recently been strengthened by new legislation. The special protections that a victim might expect under these new changes include screens in court to prevent one party from seeing the other party when giving evidence, the possibility of the victim giving evidence through a video link rather than in court, and separate entrances and waiting rooms in the court building, to keep the parties apart.

Men can be victims too depressed man

As indicated, most domestic abuse cases are decided in private. But the public nature of this one does bring the second point to light: that men can also be victims of domestic abuse, as well as women.

Obviously, the court has not yet decided whether the allegations that Depp has made against Heard are true, but the mere fact that he has made them is a useful reminder that, whilst the majority of victims are women, men can also suffer domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is a scourge that can affect anyone. If you are a victim then you should seek protection, whoever you are.