There are concerns that the ongoing defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in the USA is creating an atmosphere that might discourage domestic abuse victims in the UK from coming forward to seek help.
Depp is suing his former wife for defamation following a newspaper article in which she identified herself a victim of domestic abuse, despite the article not explicitly naming Depp. Amber Heard is counter-suing her former husband, also for defamation.
The American proceedings have been very public and have seen a huge wave of support for Johnny Depp, and positively venomous coverage of Amber Heard and the evidence she has given, despite the proceedings not even having concluded.
Family lawyers in this country have watched with increasing concern for victims of domestic abuse seeking help here. Anecdotal evidence suggests the hearing has made victims reluctant to seek help, fearing matters of a very sensitive and private nature could be made public and potentially expose them to harm or ridicule.
This is very concerning, as it is essential that the victims of domestic abuse are able to seek support. Fortunately, cases are dealt with very differently in the Family Court to the proceedings being shared from the current Depp/Heard trial.
For example, in the UK Family Court hearings about children and domestic abuse are not attended by members of the public or the media, only the people directly concerned can attend together with their legal advisers. There is no jury and a Judge will make the final decision in the case.
So-called ‘special measures’ are available for the victims of domestic abuse to shield them from their abuser during a hearing or when giving evidence.
Unlike with the Depp/Heard trial, the content of the Family Court proceedings is private and the way questions are put to witnesses is very different.
Written evidence is only supplemented by oral questions and answers where it is strictly necessary and, where oral evidence is required, the alleged abuser will not be allowed to directly question the alleged victim.
The questions that lawyers can ask must be necessary to progress the case and should be put in a courteous manner to both parties. Family Court hearings are usually very brief, with most lasting less than a day.
The first step in tackling domestic abuse is speaking to someone, so it is very worrying to hear that some victims may feel unable to come forward to seek help as a result of the ongoing Depp/Heard defamation case.
Fortunately, in the UK Family Court measures are in place to ensure confidentiality and safety for those concerned.
About Megan Bennie
Megan advises on all aspects of relationship breakdown, whether divorce or separation, including in relation to civil partnerships, dealing with issues such as the appropriate division of finances and ongoing arrangements for children.
Megan also assists couples seeking to formalise arrangements through pre and post nuptial agreements and cohabitation (or living together) agreements.
Megan is primarily based at the Chatham office but is also available for meetings at either the Canterbury or Whitstable offices.