Why are Johnny Depp and Amber Heard back in court and what has been said so far?

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are back in court. Credit: AP

Johnny Depp is back in court, this time in the US, with a multi-million pound defamation suit filed against his ex-wife Amber Heard.

The pair first appeared in court together in the UK, during a 16-day trial that revealed shocking and, at times, bizarre allegations from their time together.

Mr Depp lost that case and failed in his appeal - and he's now back, claiming words that Ms Heard wrote in 2018 have cost him acting roles and harmed his reputation.

So why exactly are they back in court for the second time within the space of the year? What has already been disclosed, and what else can we expect to be revealed?

Why are they back in court?

This court case was triggered after Mr Depp filed a defamation suit following an article written by Ms Heard in the Washington Post in December 2018.

The first-person piece, which deals with her personal experiences of domestic violence, was titled: “I spoke up against sexual violence - and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

It does not mention Mr Depp by name.

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But Mr Depp launched a 50 million dollar (£38 million) defamation lawsuit against Ms Heard, with his lawyers claiming the article falsely implies she was physically and sexually abused by the actor when they were married.

He claims the piece caused him to be dropped from the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise and that Ms Heard was the one who had been abusive towards him.

Ms Heard has also filed a counterclaim for defamation against Mr Depp because of statements his lawyer made about her.

The trial is expected to last six weeks and began on April 11, with Mr Depp first testifying against his ex-wife on April 19. She is expected to testify later in the closely watched civil trail.

What happened last time they were in court?

The pair also met in the Royal Courts Of Justice in London in 2020 after Mr Depp brought a libel against the publisher of The Sun for referring to him as a “wife-beater.”

An article by The Sun newspaper’s then-executive editor Dan Wootton, published in April 2018, referred to Mr Depp as a “wife-beater” in the headline.

Following the trial last year in the UK, ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner summarised some of the standout moments of the 16-day trial

The actor filed his libel claim against News Group Newspapers (NGN) – the owner of The Sun.

Ms Heard claimed she didn’t want to be dragged into the court case, though she did appear as a witness and described in detail the alleged attacks on her.

Following a three-week trial a judge found that the column, written in April 2018, was “substantially true.”

The actor asked the Court of Appeal to grant permission for him to challenge the ruling, with the aim of having its findings overturned and a retrial ordered, but the appeal was denied in March last year.

What did Johnny Depp say on his first day of testimony?

Speaking to the jury on Tuesday April 19, Mr Depp said the truth was all that mattered to him now, as he denied ever hitting Ms Heard, calling the domestic allegations against him disturbing and heinous.

The Pirates of the Caribbean Star said he’d been waiting for six years to tell his side of the story after Ms Heard filed for divorce against him in 2016 and sought a restraining order against him.

Mr Depp also spoke at length about a childhood in which physical abuse from his mother was “constant.”

The abuse came in the form of ashtrays being flung or a high-heeled shoe or telephone being used to beat him, he explained.

What other testimony has been heard in the trial so far?

So far, Mr Depp’s friends, family and employees have testified that Ms Heard was the aggressor in the relationship, physically attacking him on multiple occasions.

The Pirates of the Caribbean star would sometimes lock himself in the bathroom to escape ex-wife's violent attacks, the court was told.

Jurors have seen text messages in which Mr Depp uses vulgar language to describe Ms Heard and spells out his desire to get revenge against her.

Mr Depp apologised for the text messages on April 19, saying they were written in the “heat of the moment” and he was “ashamed of some of the references made.”

Ms Heard’s lawyers have said he physically and sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions, often in situations where he drank so much he later blacked out.

They have filed their own countersuit against Mr Depp, who denies any abuse claims, and say nothing in the article libels him.

Ms Heard has also said Mr Depp would grab her by the hair then scream in her face, and would also slap her, punch the wall next to her head, and throw things around the house.

Jurors have heard recordings of him allegedly shouting at her, warning of a "bloodbath" if their arguments escalate.

What else expected this time around from Amber Heard's lawyers?

Ms Heard’s lawyers are expected to argue she should be immune from the libel suit because of a Virginia law known as an anti-Slapp provision (strategic lawsuit against public participation).

The provision is designed to protect people from nuisance lawsuits when they speak about matters of public concern.

Ms Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, has argued the article addresses a serious issue of public concern: preventing domestic violence.

Amber Heard testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. Credit: AP

The case is being brought in Virginia rather than in California, where the actors live, because the Washington Post’s online editions are published through servers located in Fairfax County.

Mr Depp’s lawyers say one of the reasons they brought the case in Virginia is because the state’s anti-Slapp law is not as broad as the one in California.

Who are the key players?

Among those celebrity figures are James Franco, Paul Bettany and Elon Musk.

Their names appear on the witness list alongside representatives of the Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

While Mr Depp and Ms Heard are set to give in person testimony, though Avengers star Bettany, Franco and Tesla founder Musk will do so virtually, according to documents filed on March 14 and 15.