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Judge allows fresh evidence in Bruce Lehrmann case, delaying judgment

Bruce Lehrmann will be a speaker at a conference whose organisers claim the presumption of innocence "has been tossed aside".

Bruce Lehrmann will be a speaker at a conference whose organisers claim the presumption of innocence "has been tossed aside". Photo: Getty

Justice Michael Lee has allowed the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case to be reopened for fresh evidence after the interlocutory application by Network Ten’s lawyers was heard on Tuesday night.

Lee, who heard the application from 5pm, had been expected to hand down his judgment on the long-running multimillion-dollar case on Thursday.

In a hearing that attracted more than 34,000 viewers on the Federal Court’s YouTube live-stream, the judge said allowing the fresh evidence would likely delay the judgment until next week.

But he indicated before a brief adjournment he would subpoena former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach and other Seven Network witnesses to appear immediately on Wednesday morning to give evidence.

But after the adjournment Lee varied the appearance time to 9.30am on Thursday, with Friday also available for hearing evidence.

Lee said the evidence given by Auerbach not only targets Lehrmann’s credibility, but is ‘‘broader than that”.

‘‘This is clearly fresh evidence,’’ he said.

“It may or may not be material at the end of the day … but it is not simply a matter which goes to the credibility of the applicant, but the way in which the respondents put it, is broader than that.”

He asked Lehrmann’s lawyer Matthew Richardson SC to consider during the adjournment what objections in Auerbach’s affidavit he would make.

In testimony on Tuesday Ten’s barrister Dr Matthew Collins KC accused Lehrmann of misleading his lawyers when telling them he did not provide confidential documents from an Australian Federal Police e-brief to the Seven Network as part of an exclusive interview last year.

It included an allegation that Lehrmann, 28, provided the producer with more than 2300 pages of ‘‘deeply personal exchanges’’ between Brittany Higgins and her former boyfriend, in breach of the long-standing rule in legal practice known as the Harman undertaking.

Lehrmann received the material, going back years, while defending himself in a criminal trial.

Collins said the actions amounted to an ‘‘outrageous contempt of court’’, before also accusing Lehrmann of intentionally attempting to undermine witnesses in the trial.

Richardson countered by arguing Auerbach’s evidence was insignificant and inadmissible.

‘‘It’s really lipstick on a pig,’’ Richardson said.

‘‘This stuff is trivial, it’s just not relevant and to give leave to reopen on that sort of material would be inappropriate.’’

The new evidence relates to a 2321-page affidavit from Auerbach.

Neither Auerbach or Lehrmann were present in the Federal Court on Tuesday night.

Auerbach gave Ten further details about his interactions with Lehrmann before last May’s exclusive interview with Seven’s Spotlight program.

The affidavit outlines how Seven obtained material for its Spotlight interview, including recordings of a five-hour meeting before The Project interview between Lisa Wilkinson, producer Angus Llewellyn, Brittany Higgins and her partner David Sharaz.

Richardson had indicated early in the hearing that he would object to the evidence.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a February 2021 report on The Project where Higgins was interviewed about her alleged rape in a Parliament House office in March 2019.

Lehrmann was not named on the report. But his case is that he was easily identifiable.

He has sought extensive damages, saying Ten’s report destroyed his reputation.

-with AAP

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