What happened on days 1-3 of the trial of Johnny Depp’s libel case brought against NGN (owners of the Sun Newspaper)?

What happened on days 1-3 of the trial of Johnny Depp’s libel case brought against NGN (owners of the Sun Newspaper)?

What happened on days 1-3 of the trial of Johnny Depp’s libel case brought against NGN (owners of the Sun Newspaper)?


By John Brace (Editor)
Leonora Brace (Co-Editor)

First publication date: 16th July 2020, 18:35 (BST).
Updated: 19th July 2020, 08:04 (BST) to change text to bold on date (6th July 2020)

The libel trial is expected to last 3 weeks and is expected to end on Monday 27th July 2020. It is not a jury trial.

Royal Courts of Justice, London, UK (resized). Picture credit sjiong, made available under the CC BY-SA 2.0 licence
Royal Courts of Justice, London, UK (resized). Picture credit sjiong, made available under the CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Please note that comments are turned off due to the ongoing nature of this case.

Earlier pieces published in this same case:-

Mr Justice Nicol heard 2 applications from Johnny Depp’s barrister David Sherborne for relief from sanctions and an application for third party disclosure from Amber Heard (6th July 2020)

Adam Wolanski QC asked Nicol J at a High Court of Justice hearing (Thursday 25th June 2020) to strike out the Johnny Depp libel claim against The Sun newspaper (and Sun journalist Dan Wootton) alleging a breach of an earlier disclosure order of Nicol J (29th June 2020)

The Hon. Mr Justice Nicol asked to agree to 4 further witnesses (Miss Vanessa Paradis, Miss Winona Ryder, Mr David Killackey and Miss Kate James) in Johnny Depp/The Sun Newspaper libel case (16th May 2020)

The Hon. Mr Justice Nicol agreed privacy order in Johnny Depp/The Sun Newspaper libel trial allowing Amber Heard and another witness to give some evidence during the libel trial in private (with reporting restrictions) (10th April 2020)

This is a report on the first three days of the trial stage held on Tuesday 7th July 2020, Wednesday 8th July 2020, Thursday 9th July 2020 and Friday 10th July 2020 in the High Court of Justice (London, England, United Kingdom) in the (Queen’s Bench Division) before the Hon. Mr Justice Nicol written from the transcripts for days 1-3 (with corrections where appropriate and known).

Due to the coronavirus pandemic the hearing was held across 5 different courtrooms. Courtroom 13 held the socially distanced trial itself, a further courtroom was for extra legal professionals, with three more courtrooms for press and public. Live CCTV (closed circuit television) of what happened in Courtroom 13 was shown to those in the other 4 courtrooms. Therefore first-hand media reports are based on what was shown on the CCTV to the other courtrooms elsewhere in the building to Courtroom 13 and also documents to do with the case, rather than the more traditional way of reporting by being in the courtroom itself.

There has been some media criticism made about both the audio and video of the CCTV used such as on Nick Wallis’ Twitter feed.

The four days of the trial phase was a combination of cross-examination and some legal argument in the libel case QB-2018-006323 (Depp v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Dan Wootton).

The writer of this piece was not there in person in London, England, therefore this account below is based on a combination of mainly the transcripts of days 1-4, other published documents (published by Nick Wallis), as well as the author’s knowledge of reporting on 4 preliminary hearings in the same case (linked to above).

David Sherborne (Leading Counsel) and Kate Wilson (Junior Counsel) (instructed by Schillings International LLP) for the Claimant (John Christopher Depp II (“Johnny Depp”)).

Adam Wolanski QC (Leading Counsel) and Sasha Wass QC (instructed by Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP) was for the Defendants (News Group Newspapers Limited and Dan Wootton).

Due to the social distancing required, days 1-4 have been held in 5 different courtrooms.

The trial itself has been held in Courtroom 13. One extra courtroom is for the legal professionals that can’t fit into Courtroom 13 (due to social distancing).

Another courtroom is for the dozen and a half journalists reporting on it.

As far as I know the remaining two courtrooms are for the public attending to watch it.

What happens in Courtroom 13 (except when it has gone into private session) has been filmed (audio and video) and then shown in the other 4 courtrooms.

Although the press are allowed to report on it live by electronic devices (Twitter etc), on the first day the restrictions placed on the public were explained in the write up below.

As such, the reporting by the press on it has been hampered at times by similar problems that I had reporting earlier on the video hearings of preliminary hearings. The press can’t control what the camera is pointed at or the quality of the audio, therefore messages have to be passed back and forth to Court staff for relay on, for example when the video of the cross-examination of Johnny Depp showed his hands only.

These teething problems are to be expected, as last week was the first time for many months (due to the pandemic) that there had been in person hearings in this case (the previous one being from memory in March 2020).

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday saw cross-examination of Johnny Depp (both the Claimant and a Claimant’s witness) on his witness statement.

There are at the time of writing this piece published transcripts of days 1-4 that were requested successfully by a journalist called Nick Wallis (who is reporting on it for Channel 5 News).

The transcripts for days 1-3 (and other days), opening statements and skeleton arguments (for both the Johnny Depp side and defendants’ side), as well as the second and third witness statements of Johnny Depp are all linked from this page on Nick Wallis’ website if you want to read them.

As I am not reporting in person from London, this report on the first three days is therefore based in part on the useful published transcripts, as well as other sources of information to double-check and cross-check details not in the transcripts.

The Hon. Mr Justice Nicol started on Tuesday morning by explaining the background to the libel case brought by Johnny Depp against News Group Newspapers Limited (publishers of The Sun) and journalist Daniel Wootton.

The trial is by Judge alone (no jury) and the Hon. Mr Justice Nicol will make any necessary findings of fact and rule on any legal issues. Hon. Mr Justice Nicol explained that photos, video and sketching wasn’t lawful during the hearing and the punishments for doing so, but that the Court would audio record the hearings and a transcript could be purchased.

Nicol J continued that mobile phones were to be on silent to prevent distraction, but anyone could take notes of the hearing as it happened. Journalists, but only journalists could report on it live by Twitter or similar live text platforms.

Nicol J continued that social distancing meant that people had to be two metres apart, even with the opening of the public gallery in Courtroom 13, this meant there was a second courtroom for parties, lawyers and representatives of parties. He said that in addition to this second courtroom [for those who couldn’t fit into Courtroom 13 due to social distancing], there were a further three courtrooms for the press and public (which made five courtrooms in total). Nicol J would refer to Courtroom 13 as the Principal Courtroom, but the restrictions would apply to all 5 courtrooms [not just Courtroom 13]. Parts of the hearing would be in private, due to Nicol J’s earlier ruling (which would mean the press and public were excluded).

Nicol J said that some witnesses would be giving evidence in person in the witness box, others by video link from America, the Bahamas and Australia and that the video link of witnesses not physically present would also be shown to the spillover courtrooms.

Nicol J said that the trial was expected to last three weeks, starting at 10 a.m. each day, with an hour for lunch at 1 p.m. and finishing at about 4.30 p.m. (but there may be breaks in addition to these). Nicol J said to save time opening statements would be given in writing, rather than orally and copies of skeleton arguments could be obtained from the solicitors for the Claimant (Schillings) or the defendants (Simons, Muirhead and Burton).

David Sherborne (barrister for the Claimant Johnny Depp) said that he appeared with Ms [Eleanor] Laws [QC] and Ms [Kate] Wilson. David Sherborne said that Ms [Sasha] Wass [QC], Mr [Adam] Wolanski [QC] and Ms [Clara] Hamer for the defendants (News Group Newspapers Limited (publishers of The Sun) and Dan Wootton (Executive Editor)).

After some preliminaries, Nicol J warned that the trial needed to be fair to both parties and said it was important that the time for particular witnesses didn’t spill over to the prejudice of other witnesses.

David Sherborne referred to the seventh witness statement of Ms [Amber Heard] served at midnight, that he [David Sherborne] had not yet had a chance to read or take instructions on and that a USB stick would be provided to Nicol J at the end of the case with a copy of the multi media documents parties relied on (but not during the trial as that was not consistent with social distancing).

By page 19 of the transcript for day 1, Mr John Christopher Depp II [known as Johnny Depp] was sworn in as a witness (appearing in person).

Johnny Depp was asked by David Sherborne about a recording known as Argument 2 followed by questions on a recording taken on the 22nd of July 2016, the US divorce proceedings between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard and the restraining order.

Sasha Wass QC asked Johnny Depp questions about the recordings, Johnny Depp’s age, his life, drug taking, fame, money, influence, media interviews, a nightclub called The Viper Rooms in Los Angeles, his entourage, his arrest in 1989, what happened in 1994, an ex-girlfriend, his sense of humour, drinking red wine, his employees, past conversations and recollections of events, what happened with the paparazzi outside a restaurant, language used by Johnny Depp, an alleged assault by Johnny Depp during the production of a film called City of Lies, an employee of his who has since died, his attitudes towards violence, his attitudes towards child rearing, a covert video recording from 2016, when he first met Amber Heard, a cremation, the arrest (but not charging) of Amber Heard for domestic violence in 2009, a painting, rehab, how different women are different to each other, whether Johnny Depp was two-timing Amber Heard while he was married to Amber Heard, Johnny Depp’s values, Johnny Depp’s use of language when describing women, sarcasm and marijuana (cannabis).

Nicol J requested that there was no reporting of an email address that Mr Johnny Depp had read out during his answers.

David Sherborne made a point about phone numbers and email addresses.

Nicol J reminded those present that he had given permission for Johnny Depp to talk to David Sherborne and a representative from Schillings about the sixth and seventh witness statements of Amber Heard.

Adam Wolanski QC referred to an application for an order to cross-examine De Cadenet.

Day 1 was adjourned to 10.00 am on day 2.

Day 2 started.

Day 2 continued with the cross-examination of Johnny Depp. Ms [Eleanor] Laws [QC] was not present, but the hearing continued in her absence.

Sasha Wass QC continued her cross-examination of Johnny Depp asking questions on cocaine, Ms Amber Heard’s sister Whitney, a tattoo of Johnny Depp’s, drinking whisky, alleged violence by Johnny Depp towards Amber Heard, Amber Heard’s parents, texts, the different way round Americans record dates, drugs, a painting, smoking cigarettes, a pill box, gifts to Johnny Depp, jealousy, allegations of violence by Johnny Depp to Amber Heard, filming, a photograph, Marie de Villepin, the Yorkshire terrier Pistol, drivers, running jokes, where cocaine was taken, a hand injury, Amber Heard’s attitude towards Johnny Depp’s use of drink and drugs, Amber Heard’s drinking, texts sent by Johnny Depp about Amber Heard, email, Johnny Depp’s witness statement, drugs tests, jealousy, the film To Have and Have Not, photos, detox, love, what the Peruvian period was referring to, the Artic Monkeys series of texts, arguments, Dr Kipper, Roxicodone, the Adderall Diaries, Pineapple Express, plane flights and behaviour on an airplane to which Johnny Depp gave answers.

David Sherborne objected to Nicol J as to the way that some of the questions had been put to Johnny Depp by Sasha Wass QC in relation to quotes from documents not written by Johnny Depp or sent to Johnny Depp.

Sasha Wass QC continued with further questions to Johnny Depp about texts, an audio recording from a plane journey (that was played to the Court), the metadata of the audio recording, drinking and a text to Patty Smith. Johnny Depp answered the questions.

Once Johnny Depp was finished, a change to the witness timetable was requested, the original had had Johnny Depp give evidence on days 1-3, however Sasha Wass QC requested that Friday morning (day 4) also be allocated to cross-examination of Johnny Depp. This would mean that other witnesses such as Sean Bett and Kevin Murphy would have to be rearranged in a revised timetable. David Sherborne responded to her points and request, pointing out that some were giving evidence on Friday by video link and making other points.

Sasha Wass QC responded, she agreed that LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) officers Tyler Hadden and Melissa Saenz could be heard starting at 3 pm on Friday (by video link).

Nicol J disagreed that Johnny Depp’s evidence could continue to Friday afternoon.

Sasha Wass QC asked about reorganising Nicol J’s bundle and it was suggested by Nicol J that it be done by Nicol J’s Clerk and Sasha Wass QC. The final point made by Sasha Wass QC was about Ms de Cadanet’s cross-examination application. Nicol J said that if a ruling was needed, it would be made at a convenient time.

Day 2 ended.

Day 3 (Thursday 9th July 2020) began with the continuation of the cross-examination of Johnny Depp.

Sasha Wass QC asked Johnny Depp questions about detoxification, Johnny Depp’s stay on his island, Nurse Debbie Lloyd and Dr David Kipper, Amber Heard, the extent of Amber Heard’s drug use and alcohol consumption, a text, medical notes, more texts, more medical notes, Dr David Kipper, Dr Connell Cowan, the anxiety of Amber Heard, James Franco, Roxys, ecstasy (MDMA), more texts, what “Peruvian” meant, more texts, a video clip was shown to the Court, drinking, the trip to Tokyo, Adam Gough, Stephen Deuters, Johnny Depp’s marriage to Amber Heard in 2015, the trip to Australia in 2015 by Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, Debbie Lloyd (the nurse), Kevin Murphy, Ben King, Amber Heard filming in London for the film London Fields, what happened in Australia, texts, ecstasy, cocaine, baggage, Marilyn Manson, drinking, the filming of fifth The Pirates of the Caribbean film, drug addiction, Billy Bob Thornton, alleged violence by Johnny Depp towards Amber Heard, what Amber Heard was wearing, music, the ping-pong table, Johnny Depp’s sense of humour, Johnny Depp losing part of his finger, the ambition of Amber Heard, an audio tape was played to the Court, Jerry Judge, Malcolm Connolly, Ben King, Debbie Lloyd, Dr Kipper, the $75,000 damage to the house and how Johnny Depp was described by others.

Nicol J asked David Sherborne what his estimate would be for re-examination. David Sherborne estimated an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters.

Nicol J explained that he wished for Johnny Depp’s cross examination to finish by lunch time tomorrow (day 4).

Nicol J also reminded David Sherborne of the video linked witnesses down for day 4 and that if Johnny Depp’s re-examination overran it would cause problems.

There was an adjournment for lunch which lasted till 2.15 pm.

After the adjournment Sasha Wass QC continued her cross-examination of Johnny Depp.

She asked him about the transcripts of the Australian recording, the amount of damage, the smashed bottles, the blood, why Johnny Depp felt Amber Heard was upset (about whether she signed a pre and post nuptial agreement), concern for Johnny Depp’s public image and keeping things out of the press, Johnny Depp’s privacy, a painting, an estimate of the damage, the trip to the hospital, cocaine, the difference in time zones in Australia, Johnny Depp’s sister, divorce, the lie about the accordion door, various questions about the injury to Johnny Depp’s finger, how the bottle was smashed, the East Columbia Building and penthouses 1-5, Amber Heard, Raquel Pennington (Rocky), Josh Drew, Sweetzer (Johnny Depp’s other house), whether Johnny Depp had an affair with Rochelle, Travis McGivern, the denial by Johnny Depp of an affair with Rochelle, Whitney and Travis McGivern.

David Sherborne intervened and asked there was a point made about Sasha Wass QC’s question about Travis McGivern.

Sasha Wass QC went back to asking questions to Johnny Depp about him (Johnny Depp) and Amber Heard and the staircase incident.

There was a short break for around ten minutes.

Sasha Wass QC was told by Nicol J that Sasha Wass QC could continue till 20 to five.

Sasha Wass QC asked about Johnny Depp about the transcript of an audio recording of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, Adderall, what happened in Australia, the good and bad periods of the relationship between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, the honeymoon on the Eastern Oriental train, the monster, what was alleged to have happened in the cabin, times when Johnny Depp had destroyed property, an argument between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in the Eastern Columbia Building, whether the allegations of Amber Heard of violence at this time by Johnny Depp towards Amber Heard were denied by Johnny Depp, photographs and the bed frame (which takes this piece to page 39 of the transcript for day 3).

Although this piece was originally planned to cover days 1-4 in the interests of finishing it and publication it ends at this point.

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Author: John Brace

New media journalist from Birkenhead, England who writes about Wirral Council. Published and promoted by John Brace, 134 Boundary Road, Bidston, CH43 7PH. Printed by UK Webhosting Ltd t/a Tsohost, 113-114 Buckingham Avenue, Slough, Berkshire, England, SL1 4PF.