Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann (pictured above) has settled his defamation suit with the ABC after the network broadcast a 2022 National Press Club speech by fellow former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
It had been alleged that Lehrmann raped his former colleague in Parliament House. That allegation remains unresolved after a criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court collapsed due to juror misconduct. Plans for a retrial were later abandoned because of fears for Higgins’s health. Lehrmann maintains his innocence.
However, Lehrmann is pressing on with his suits against the ABC and former host of The Project Lisa Wilkinson over an interview with Higgins broadcast on the show in February 2021. In the interview, Higgins claimed she was raped in then-defence minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House in March 2019.
The interview did not name Lehrmann but he has argued that he was identifiable to many people from the details and allegations that were included.
The suit against ABC and Wilkinson has been described as a “de facto rape trial”. Ten will be represented by Matthew Collins KC. The network’s case will rely on a truth defence, arguing that the allegations made by Higgins are “substantially true”.
Lehrmann’s lawyers demanded Network Ten pay $235,000, apologise, and remove the stories he said defamed him.
Network Ten will seek to establish that the reporting was true and also rely on the defence of qualified privilege in the case.
In its submissions, the network said it “had a duty to publish the matters”.
Wilkinson will be represented by Sue Chrysanthou SC who will defend her client’s professionalism and role in the interview. Separately, Ms Wilkinson has taken Ten to court for failing to cover her legal costs.
Higgins is expected to take to the stand, despite previous concerns over her health following the incident.
In the opening minutes of the hearing, Ten’s lawyer announced that ABC had settled with Lehrmann. “We seek a vacation of the trial,” he said.
The hearing against Ten and Wilkinson continues.
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