‘Liar, Liar’: Lehrmann Exposed As High Profile Defamation Case Comes To A Close

‘Liar, Liar’: Lehrmann Exposed As High Profile Defamation Case Comes To A Close

After a long and delayed trial, Justice Michael Lee finally handed down his verdict in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation ruling against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson over allegations he raped Brittany Higgins, dismissing the high-profile case.

So what was the final verdict, and what does it all mean for the involved parties? B&T has broken down all of the action of the case, the world’s reactions and what comes next below.

The Case

Let’s start with a little recap of the case that has dominated the media landscape for years.

March 22-23, 2019

Working for then defence minister, Senator Linda Reynolds at the time, Lehrmann and Higgins mingle with colleagues over multiple drinks at The Dock bar in Canberra. The pair kick on to another venue, 88mph, with two other co-workers.

Lehrmann and Higgins share an Uber to Parliament House, arriving around 1:40 am. Lehrmann tells security guards he was requested by the minister to pick up work documents, and the pair are escorted to Reynolds’ ministerial suite. In the footage, Higgins can be seen carrying her high heels in her hands.

Lehrmann left the suite 40 minutes later. Higgins, who later allegedly accused Lehrmann raped her, left around 10am.

March 26 2019

The Department of Parliamentary Services provides a report to Reynolds’ chief of staff, Fiona Brown, about a “security breach” involving staff entering the office after hours, and intoxicated. Higgins and Lehrmann were interviewed separately about the breach.

April 5 2019

Lehrmann’s employment is terminated over the breach, according to the Guardian.

April 8 2019

Higgins meets with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), claiming Lehrmann raped her but drops the complaint a week later.

January 27 2021

Higgins, now working for Senator Michaelia Cash and her partner David Sharaz, met with The Project journalist Lisa Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn in Sydney. Two days later, she resigned from her role.

February 2 2021

Higgins takes part in a tell-all interview with Wilkinson for The Project in which she alleges she was raped on a couch in the defence minister’s office.

February 4 2021

Higgins reopens her complaint against Lehrmann.

February 15 2021

The interview goes live on The Project.

April 19 2021

Police interview Lehrmann.

May 26 2021

Higgins hands over her phone to the AFP for extraction.

September 16 2021

Lehrmann is charged with sexual intercourse without consent and pleads ‘not guilty’.

June 21 2022

The trial for the alleged rape is delayed after a speech, approved by Network Ten’s legal team, and is delivered by Wilkinson at the Logies.

October 4 2022

The criminal trial begins in Canberra, but Higgins’ evidence is delayed because she cannot attend court.

October 26 2022

The jury is dismissed after discovering that one juror obtained information other than the evidence presented in court.

December 2 2022

The case is dropped after medical advice regarding Higgins comes to light.

February 7 2023

In the federal court, Lehrmann commences legal action against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

June 4 2023

Lehrmann appears on Seven’s Spotlight program for an exclusive, paid interview and claims that the alleged assault “simply didn’t happen”.

November 22 2023

The defamation trial against Ten and Wilkinson begins in Sydney’s federal court before Justice Michael Lee. The trial is made public via YouTube. Lehrmann is the first witness and spends five days in the witness box.

November 28 2023

Higgins spends four days in the witness box.

December 5 2023

Documents released by the court reveal that Lehrmann was paid the equivalent of $104,000 by Channel Seven for two exclusive interviews.

December 22 2023

Justice Lee retires to consider more than 15,000 pages of transcript and 1,000 separate exhibits, including hours of CCTV footage and audio and video recordings.

March 31 2024

Network Ten filed an interlocutory application requesting the federal court reopen its defence based on “fresh evidence”.

April 2 2024

In an urgent hearing, Justice Lee allows Channel Ten to present additional evidence—a signed affidavit revealing details about the extreme measures taken to secure the interview with Lehrmann on Seven’s current affairs program, Spotlight. The judgment due to be handed down just two days later is delayed.

April 4 2024

Former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach takes to the witness stand, telling the court how Seven paid for drugs and prostitutes as part of an effort to secure the interview.

April 15 2024

Justice Lee hands down his verdict.

The verdict

Lee, who broke down his 300-plus page verdict in a lengthy hearing that was broadcast on the Federal Court’s YouTube channel, referred to the trial as an “omnishambles” in which Lehrmann told “deliberate lies” and Higgins was “also an unsatisfactory witness” who made claims that were not backed up.

“Only one man and one woman know the truth, with certitude, of what happened,” he said, adding that those two people were, “both, in different ways, unreliable historians”.

Justice Lee found that Lehrmann had lied about not providing material to Network Seven, ultimately undermining his credibility.

“His representations and evidence to the contrary were false to his knowledge on a serious matter, and this conclusion fortifies my assessment as to his general credit”.

Higgins, he said, “made some allegations that made her a heroine to one group of partisans. When examined forensically (those allegations) have undermined her general credibility”. But he found her “credible” in her recollections of what happened that night in Parliament House.

Lee also acknowledged that the case had been inevitably wrapped up in the #MeToo movement and was further complicated by myths surrounding the behaviour of rape victims post-trauma.

“For more than a few, this dispute has become a proxy for broader cultural and political conflicts,” he said.

Despite escaping the trial relatively unscathed, Network Ten was not exempt from Lee’s judgement. Lee said that Ten was aware of the “unreliability of the main source” and claimed that attempts to reach Lehrmann for contact were unsatisfactory.

Taking all of this into account, Justice Lee declared that, on the basis of probabilities, Lehrmann did rape Higgins in Parliament House on that fateful night in 2019. Lee claimed that Lehrmann was “hellbent on having sex with a woman he found attractive” and was aware that Higgins was intoxicated and, therefore, not in a state to provide consent.

Based on this, Justice Lee dismissed the case, siding in favour of Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson.

Lehrmann continues to deny all allegations.

The World Reacts

In the wake of the judgement, the media industry came to life with publications across the country finally dropping all of their “allegedly’s” and “reportedly’s” and openly calling Lehrmann a “liar” and a “rapist” without fear of litigation.

Pedestrian shared a compilation of front pages from across the country on their Instagram yesterday, exposing the story’s reach.

 

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A post shared by PEDESTRIAN.TV (@pedestriantv)

Over on X, it was the #MeToo movement all over again, with rape victims united in solidarity with Higgins in the wake of the verdict.

What happens next?

The case will be back in court on Monday, 22 April, for a hearing on costs. At this time, Lehrmann may be ordered to pay Ten’s legal bill of up to $8m in addition to his own.

Lehrmann can appeal the judgement at this hearing, but according to Justice Lee, if he were to win an appeal, his damages would only amount to around $20,000 as he is “only entitled to be compensated for the reputation he deserves”.

B&T’s take

Bruce Lehrmann

It’s a long road ahead for notorious party boy Bruce Lehrmann. While Lehrmann is hardly the victim, he has become the biggest loser in a long list of involved parties. The former Liberal staffer is rumoured to be broke, homeless, in severe debt, and unemployed, and his shredded reputation is bound to prohibit him from fixing any of these matters.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Lehrmann now faces a committal hearing on June 17, 2024, to decide whether or not he will face trial on charges of raping a woman twice in Toowoomba, Queensland, in October 2021. It is expected that he will plead not guilty. But we do not know.

Brittany Higgins

Higgins and her partner, Dave Sharaz, left Australia earlier this year to move to France to escape the media frenzy surrounding the case. The pair will return to Australia occasionally with the defamation case initiated by her former boss, MP Linda Reynolds, due back in court next month.

Lisa Wilkinson

Some commentators have argued that Wilkinson should have known better, but we are not sure. Justice Lee said she displayed a “lack of candour in the witness box”. Having been removed from The Project at the end of 2022, with discussions of other projects that never came to fruition, Wilkinson did not feature in the network’s line-up for 2024 when it was announced last year. Her contract with the network expires at the end of this year. Wilkinson is still regarded as one of the most reputable media figures.

Wilkinson did post to Instagram after the verdict was announced, saying that she “hope[s] that today’s judgement gives strength to women around the country”.

Network Ten

Ten may have escaped this case as a winner, but the troubles are far from over. Justice Lee described The Project interview as corrupted, failing to question Higgins on her story adequately. In-house lawyer Tasha Smithies was also criticised for advising Wilkinson that she could speak on the matter at the Logies.

Despite reports of a broken reputation and financial difficulties, the network is still calling the verdict a “triumph for truth”.

A statement released on Monday said: “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”.

Channel Seven

Channel 7 has now been widely reported that it in unethical practices to secure interviews on its Spotlight program. For now, Spotlight EP Mark Llewellyn has become the network’s scapegoat, with his departure announced yesterday.

Despite being publicly torn apart from all branches of the media, Seven maintains it “acted appropriately at all times” and said that Auerbach’s allegations “do not reflect the culture of Seven.”

The future of Network Seven, which has already faced criticism for its connections with reportedly disgraced war hero Ben Roberts Smith and its handling of former producer Michael Pell, is anyone’s guess.

B&T contacted Channel 7 but was told that the network had not released a statement.




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