Senior lecturer in law at the University of Technology in Sydney, Talia Anthony, yesterday said Depp, 51, and Heard, 29, should have been immediately charged by Australian Federal Police or biosecurity officers when it was discovered the pets were not declared on the in-flight manifest.
“Under section 67 of the Quarantine Act it is very clear that he should have been charged straight away,” Dr Anthony told News Corp Australia.
“This seems to have been dealt with in a very different way. He (Depp) seems to have received special treatment.”
Dr Anthony said anyone who was involved in concealing the animals could also face fines and possible jail time.
“Anyone involved, including the aircraft operator, could also be held responsible as secondary offenders through aiding and abetting,” she said.
“They could be an accessory after the fact if they sought to hide the dogs. If found guilty it would hold the same maximum penalty.”
International law expert at the Australian National University Don Rothwell said the operator of the aircraft could actually face the most liability if they failed to declare the dogs on the in-flight manifest.
“Ultimately it is their responsibility,” Professor Rothwell said.
He said the government would no doubt become tougher on private jet inspections as a result of this incident.
“Johnny Depp will definitely be targeted when he enters the country again, however you could definitely expect that the government might rethink how they conduct inspections on all private jets into the future,” Professor Rothwell said.
News Corp Australia revealed yesterday that Depp and Heard face a fine of up to $340,000 if found guilty of deliberately evading Australia’s strict biosecurity rules and possible jail time.
The Department of Agriculture and The Department of Immigration and Customs are each conducting full investigations into how the breach occurred and Depp and Heard will be interviewed as part of the investigation.
Yesterday there was speculation the woman believed to have carried the dogs off the plane concealed in a handbag might have been part of the travelling party that returned with the dogs to the US.
Reports also suggested Heard’s parents may have joined the pets — described as “Amber’s babies” — on the $400,000 charter flight from Queensland.
The Australian Federal Police yesterday said they had no involvement in the case.
The delay meant that under half the current crew of 400 working on the big-budget feature, the largest ever to film in Australia, were temporarily stood down until filming resumed on Friday.