Depp v Heard – what is the issue and how does it affect people in the UK?


19 May 2022

In 2018, Amber Heard wrote an article for the Washington Post in which she discussed her experiences of domestic abuse. Fast forward to today, and we see the resulting defamation trial that Jonny Depp is bringing against her (in the US) dominate our newspapers in the UK.

It has been splashed across social media, news channels and papers worldwide to the extent that you would be hard pressed not to have at least heard about the scenes that have been playing out within the court room.

Sadly for all concerned, the trial is being filmed and the intimate details of the case and the evidence have been broadcasted to the masses. These details have, in turn, been consumed by those following the trial and remodelled into clips, Tik Toks, live updates and memes. Unfortunately, this has included intimate details including saddening descriptions of violent episodes between both parties.

The sad reality is that many of us will experience domestic abuse in our lifetimes. In fact, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2020, an estimated 7.3% women experienced domestic abuse that year, and the issue is not a gender specific one, as 3.6% of men also experienced domestic abuse in the same year. These statistics are deeply troubling. Particularly as the number of domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 increased by 6%; from 798,607 in the year ending March 2020 to 845,734. This continues the trend of increases seen over previous years.

Domestic abuse, as defined under s1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, is not limited to physical violence and threats. It can include sexual abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse, psychological, emotional or other abuse.

Domestic abuse should be reported to the police. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to seek a protective order from the court which can be in the form of a non-molestation order, occupation order, a domestic violence protection order or a domestic violence protection notice. These may go some way to helping to protect the victim from abuse committed by, or threatened by, a person associated with them. There is public funding available for these protections in certain circumstances.

In order to keep people safe from domestic abuse, it is fundamental to recognise unhealthy and dangerous behaviours and attitudes towards it. Thankfully, comic strips of housewives hitting their husbands around the head with a rolling pin are long gone. However, the same attitude is being seen in the case of Jonny Depp and Amber Heard, where fans have mocked and minimised descriptions of domestic violence given by both parties to the extent that they have been weaponised to fit wider narratives and allegiances. This does not help anyone living through a similar situation. Domestic violence is a serious issue and should be treated as such. Serious allegations need to be heard and understood, so that survivors of domestic abuse feel safe enough to speak out and society takes the issue seriously to help every victim of this terrible abuse. 

If you require any advice regarding any of the issues discussed within this article, please do not hesitate to contact Jessica Murfitt or Emma Brunning.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2022.

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