Johnny Depp's lawyers have failed to stop the American actor's ex-wife, Amber Heard, from attending his libel trial against the British tabloid newspaper The Sun until she is called to give evidence.

In a court order published on Saturday, trial judge Andrew Nicol said excluding Heard from the London courtroom before she testified in the case "would inhibit the defendants in the conduct of their defence."

Depp, 57, is suing The Sun's publisher, News Group Newspapers, and executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article claiming the actor was violent and abusive to Heard. He strongly denies the allegations.

Depp's lawyers had asked the judge to keep Heard from attending the trial until the 34-year-old actress and model appears to give evidence, arguing her testimony would be more reliable if she were not present in court when Depp was being cross-examined.

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The judge noted it is News Group and Wootton, and not Heard, that are defending the claim, while conceding they will be relying "heavily" on what Heard says.

The socially distanced trial, which was postponed from March because of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to start on Tuesday and to last three weeks.

Other witnesses are likely to include Depp's ex-partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, who have both submitted statements supporting the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star.