Johnny Depp sued ex-wife, Amber Heard, over defamatory statements published in a December 2018 Washington Post article.
Depp claims these statements defamed him and resulted in a loss of earnings of approximately $40 million.
This article examines the differences in the law on defamation in the U.S. and Ireland.
The Law on Defamation in the U.S.
Depp’s legal team must reach a high burden of proof to succeed in their claim, showing that Heard not only defamed Depp, but did so with malice. Actual malice must be proved where the claim concerns a public figure plaintiff. In other words, they must show that the defamatory statements were said with knowledge that they were false, or with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not.
As well as actual malice, Depp’s legal team must prove the elements of defamation to succeed in their claim.
For a successful defamation case, a plaintiff must prove the following elements of defamation established through U.S. common law
- publication of,
- an actionable statement (false and defamatory),
- concerning the plaintiff with,
- the requisite intent (prove the defendant’s negligence/guilty state of mind).
Heard will argue that her statements are true and that she is shielded, or “immune”, from liability because the article on domestic violence was a matter of public concern.
The Law on Defamation in Ireland
In Ireland, the right to protect one’s good name is a constitutional right under Article 40.3.2, and the law on defamation is governed by the Defamation Act 2009. This sets on a statutory footing the elements, procedures, and defences to defamation.
For defamation to have occurred, there must be;
- publication of,
- a defamatory statement,
- the statement must be false,
- referring or implying to a specific person,
- and must be heard or read by another person.
A defamatory statement is a statement that reasonable members of society would think damages your reputation.
In short, defamation law in Ireland requires the plaintiff to prove that a false, defamatory statement was made about them and heard by a third party. Contrarily in the U.S., as well as the aforementioned elements, a plaintiff must also prove the requisite intent of the Defendant and, in cases concerning public figures, they must show the added element of actual malice, and this could be a challenge for Depp’s legal team.
About the author: Ciarán Leavy, Partner and Head of Commercial Litigation.