Coronavirus delays Johnny Depp's defamation trial as he's in isolation at French estate

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Johnny Depp's defamation trial in London has been postponed due to the coronavirus, Yahoo Entertainment can confirm. The high-profile trial was supposed to start Monday, bringing Depp and ex-wife, Amber Heard, face-to-face. The actor is suing News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the Sun, over a 2018 story that called him a "wife beater."

A hearing took place Friday to determine whether the trial would need to be adjourned. Courts in the U.K. have been operating relatively normally as the country is not in lockdown. However, Depp is in France at his 37-acre estate and his legal team said the actor couldn't travel, nor is he able to give evidence through a suitable video link.

Johnny Depp's libel trial against the <em>Sun</em> over "wife beater" claim delayed due to COVID-19. (Photo: Reuters)
Johnny Depp's libel trial against the Sun over "wife beater" claim delayed due to COVID-19. (Photo: Reuters)
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The Sun's legal counsel, Adam Wolanski QC, claimed in court Depp wanted the trial adjourned "not because of the coronavirus, but because he cannot face the prospect of his lies about his relationship being exposed because he’s a coward and because he knows he’s going to lose."

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Heard, who is aiding in the Sun's defense, was prepared to get on a flight Friday from Los Angeles to London for the trial.

"As she has explained in a witness statement today, it is essential to Ms. Heard that this ordeal be brought to an end," Wolanski said. "She explains that he has for many years used his physical, financial and professional power to embarrass and harass her and people around her, including witnesses."

A spokesperson for Heard told Yahoo Friday, "As she has demonstrated, Amber is willing to give evidence on what she was subjected to, no matter the obstacles involved, and from the other side of the Atlantic. Mr. Depp, on the other hand, will not even make the effort to leave his palatial estate in the south of France. That speaks volumes."

A lawyer for the 56-year-old actor dismissed the notion the actor wanted to delay the trial.

"Mr. Depp has pursued and awaited justice for nearly four years," attorney Adam Waldman tells Yahoo Entertainment. "The Judge hearing Mr. Depp’s defamation case against the Sun raised safety and practicality concerns. Although the case is extremely important to Mr. Depp, he is also uneasy about putting anyone else in harm’s way. These are perilous times, and he accepts waiting until the borders and the courts can safely operate."

Waldman continued, "In contrast, the Sun tabloid fails to read their own newspaper accounts about current events, and exhibit their famous disdain for the British public. Ms. Heard's small coterie of friends and family witnesses, half of whom she sued to compel them to testify, also offered to appear by video link in a libel case for which the reporter Dan Wootton himself is too afraid to testify."

Wootton is who authored the article Depp says is libelous. In April 2018, the Sun published an article titled, "Gone Potty: How can J.K. Rowling be 'genuinely happy' casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?" The headline was later amended to "How can JK Rowling be 'genuinely happy' casting Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film after assault claim?"

One of Depp’s U.K. attorneys is reportedly in self-isolation. High Court Judge Andrew Nicol recognized this week the potential impact COVID-19 could have midway through the trial, given the amount of people involved.

"There’s also the issue of if we were to start and illness struck one or more participants halfway through, what would we do? Even if you haven’t raised the question, I was going to raise it," Judge Nicol told the lawyers Wednesday prior to Friday's ruling.

Depp has called 17 potential witnesses while the newspaper has called seven, including Heard.

Heard, 33, and Depp, who split in 2016 after 15 months of marriage, are engaged in a separate defamation lawsuit in the states.

Winona Ryder defends Johnny Depp in Amber Heard lawsuit:

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