The mammoth Judgment in Depp v Heard, sorry Depp v News Group Newspapers has just been handed down by Nicol J after a 16-day trial which took up 5 court rooms at the Royal Courts of Justice.

A plethora of incidents were analysed in a judgment which was light on law and heavy on factual analysis.  An analysis of the law in relation to the defence of truth occupied a meagre 5 paragraphs in a Judgment of 585 paragraphs.  These paragraphs cited case law which was positively pedestrian, namely that even with allegations of criminality, the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities rather than the criminal standard, although more cogent evidence is needed if the allegation is more serious.

What is more interesting is to contrast what happened in the Media and Communication List of the High Court with how such a case would be handled in the Family Courts:

  • Parties are limited to 5 allegations each. The reason is obvious – proportionality and an appropriate use of court resources.
  • The (joint) bundle would be limited to 350 pages.
  • The hearing would be in private and, if published, anonymised.
  • Publication of the names of children would be strictly forbidden.
  • The hearing would be listed before a District or Circuit Judge, well used to dealing with allegations of Domestic Violence.

Such a case would also take 3 days, at most.

There is no doubt that the High Court claim provided many column inches for the press, including the Defendant.  But the conclusion may well be that for the Claimant and Ms Heard, the Family Courts, for all their deficiencies, may well have been a kinder forum for their dispute.

Barrister on this case – Dr Anton van Dellen

Dr Anton van Dellen has experience in a wide range of defamation proceedings, ranging from pre-action advice to fully contested High Court claims and appeals up to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. He also has sound experience in bringing Judicial Reviews and appeals against a wide range of public authorities, challenging decisions for being unlawful, irrational and/or failing to follow published guidance. High Net Worth clients are represented by Dr Anton van Dellen in a range of litigation involving disputes over assets.