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Here’s the latest in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial

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Bruce Lehrmann is suing Network Ten for defamation over a 2021 interview with Brittany Higgins where she alleged she was raped.
Bruce Lehrmann defamation

The defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson is nearing the end of its second week.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over a story that aired on The Project in February 2021.

Here’s everything you need to know about the case so far.

The allegation

On 15 February 2021, former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she had been raped in an office in Parliament House by a male colleague in 2019. Higgins made the allegation in an article on news.com.au and in an interview with journalist Lisa Wilkinson on Network Ten’s The Project.

The article and the interview did not name Bruce Lehrmann due to defamation risks. He was publicly named in August 2021 after criminal charges were filed against him.

Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence.

Court case(s)

Last year, there was a criminal trial brought forward by ACT police against Lehrmann. It failed (meaning there was no outcome) due to juror misconduct. A re-trial was abandoned due to concerns for Higgins’ mental health.

The current case in court is a civil trial brought forward by Lehrmann. He is suing for defamation — the act of damaging someone’s reputation. Lehrmann was initially suing news.com.au, Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson, and the ABC (for airing a speech made by Brittany last year).

He has since settled with the ABC and news.com.au, but the case remains ongoing with Network Ten and Wilkinson.

Defamation

Despite not being named, Lehrmann is alleging he was still identifiable in The Project’s interview by friends, former colleagues, and social media users. He claims the interview “utterly destroyed” his reputation.

There are several defences that can be used in a defamation trial. The main one Network Ten and Wilkinson are relying on is the ‘truth defence’. Essentially, they claim the allegation at the centre of the interview was substantially true and therefore not defamatory.

Unlike the criminal trial, this case will be decided by a judge, not a jury.

Lehrmann’s testimony

This trial is the first time Lehrmann has been in the witness box. He was not required to do this in the criminal trial.

During Lehrmann’s cross-examination, he denied ever having any sexual contact with Higgins.

Lehrmann said he was admitted to Royal North Shore hospital one day after The Project interview aired because he had become suicidal.

On why he needed to go to Parliament House after-hours on the night of the alleged rape, Lehrmann admitted he has told three different stories, and agreed that two of these stories were lies.

Channel 7

It was also revealed in court that Channel 7 is paying for Lehrmann’s rent at a property in Sydney’s northern beaches until June 2024.

The rent is compensation for Lehrmann appearing in two interviews for the network’s ‘Spotlight’ program.

Higgins testimony

Brittany Higgins appeared as a witness in case. She recounted events leading up, including, and after 23 March 2019, when she alleges Lehrmann raped her.

In doing so, she said she didn’t initially want to disclose the alleged rape publicly.

“I was terrified of becoming the story, of being a staffer who this had happened to,” Higgins told the court.

She said it was because “my job meant everything to me and I really loved it, and I wanted to keep it and it was of primary importance.”

What happens next?

The trial will continue next week.

Network Ten’s lawyers have said they will call on more than 20 witnesses as part of its defence.

Lisa Wilkinson will testify later in the trial.

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

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