Judge Finds Lehrmann Did Rape Higgins ‘On Balance Of Probabilities’

Judge Finds Lehrmann Did Rape Higgins ‘On Balance Of Probabilities’

Justice Michael Lee has dismissed the defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson finding, on the balance of probabilities, that Bruce Lehrmann did rape Brittany Higgins on that night in Parliament House in March of 2019.

Lehrmann is expected to be hit with a substantial bill to cover the legal fees for Ten and Wilkinson.

Justice Lee declared that it was “more likely than not in those early hours, after a long night of conviviality and drinking and having successfully brought Ms Higgins back to a secluded place, Mr Lehrmann was hellbent on having sex with a woman he:

a) found sexually attractive;

b) had been mutually passionately kissing and touching;

c) had encouraged to drink, and;

d) knew had reduced inhibitions because she was very drunk”.

“In his pursuit of gratification, he did not care one way or the other whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed to what was going on,” Justice Lee said.

“[Mr Lehrmann] has now been found, at the civil standard of proof, to engage in a great wrong. It follows Ms Higgins has been proven to be a victim of sexual assault,” he added.

This civil defamation trial, however, has a lower burden of proof than the previous criminal trial which had been aborted in October 2022 due to concerns over Higgins’ mental health.

“Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat,” added Justice Lee.

“Although I am not satisfied there was clear verbal protest [from Ms Higgins]… any suggestion that some form of active resistance is determinative for the question of consent will be discarded,” the Justice added.

“Ordinary human experience suggests that sexual assault victims vary in their behaviour.”

Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence.

However, this judgement does not mean that Network 10 and The Project host Lisa Wilkinson have come away smelling of roses. Justice Lee was critical of its approach to the story. He found that publishing the matter was not reasonable for a number of reasons:

First, he disagreed that the rape allegations were intertwined with a cover-up. He said Ms Higgins’s explanations about how she lost material on her phone, but some select material survived, were implausible. He also criticised Lisa Wilkinson’s approach to the “bruise photograph” which was shown to her by Higgins as evidence that she was crushed during the alleged rape.

“The lack of curiosity about investigating the bruise photograph is especially unreasonable given its subjective and objective importance given it was said … to be physical evidence corroborating Ms Higgins’s rape allegation.”

Justice Lee also said that Network 10 and The Project should have done more to follow up on contradictory information provided about the night in question.

“He was not living the life of a hermit. He was working for a public relations firm in Sydney,” he said.

“[Producer Angus] Llewellyn, like Ms Wilkinson, started from the premise that what Ms Higgins said about her allegations was necessarily true.”

Following the case, Wilkinson gave a brief statement outside court.

“I sincerely hope that this judgement gives strength to women around the country,” she said.

“I am also so grateful to have had the benefit of my independent legal team led by Sue Chrysanthou whose expertise and wise counsel have been a source of ongoing strength to me for the last 14 months. Thank you.

“Throughout every step of this process, I have been surrounded by the love of my wonderful family as well as incredibly supportive friends and colleagues. I can never thank them enough.

“I also want to say how grateful I am to all the generous members of the public who have approached me almost every single day to express, often through tears, their unwavering support. Thanks very much.”

In a statement, Network 10 said:

“At its core this case was first and foremost about truth and Justice Lee has found that Network 10 prevailed in proving that Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape were true. This judgment is a triumph for truth.

“Justice Lee’s judgment is vindication for the courageous Brittany Higgins who gave a voice to women across the nation.

“Network 10 is considering Justice Lee’s 324-page judgment. It is clear however that Australia’s defamation laws remain highly restrictive.

“When put to the test, it was always our obligation to inform the public of these important social and political matters notwithstanding the challenges presented by these laws and today’s judgment vindicates the telling of Brittany’s story.

“Network 10 remains firmly committed to honest, fair and independent journalism; to holding those in power to account; to giving people a voice who wouldn’t otherwise have one; and to always pursuing without fear or favour, journalism that is firmly in the public interest.”

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