What Lehrmann’s defamation defeat means for the former staffer, Channel Ten and Lisa Wilkinson

Lisa Wilkinson statement

Source: ABC News

Bruce Lehrmann’s lengthy defamation trial has resulted in the judge finding that – on the balance of probabilities – Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins in Parliament House.

But what does the decision mean for the former Liberal political staffer, Channel Ten and Lisa Wilkinson?

What did the judge find?

Justice Michael Lee found that Lehrmann not only had sexual intercourse with Higgins within Parliament House, but also that Higgins had been unable to consent due to her intoxication.

“In summary, I consider it 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 found attractive,” Lee said in his decision.

“He did not care one way or the other whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed to what was going on.”

Lee labelled Lehrmann’s account of what happened during the early hours of March 23, 2019, where he claimed to have returned to Parliament House for his keys, to have been an “elaborate” lie.

“He was a 23-year-old male cheating on his girlfriend, having just ‘hooked up’ with a woman he found sexually attractive,” Lee said.

“Human experience suggests what he then wanted to happen is not exactly shrouded in mystery.”

Ten and Lisa Wilkinson did not defame Lehrmann when Higgins was interviewed on The Project and accused a then-unnamed staffer of raping her in Parliament House, according to the judge’s findings.

Although Lee described Higgins and Lehrmann as “unreliable historians”, he said Lehrmann had told deliberate and calculated lies about the events that occurred, based on physical evidence and witness testimony, including from their former boss Fiona Brown.

Was there a cover-up?

Part of Ten and Wilkinson’s interview with Higgins in 2021 focused on the allegation that members of the Morrison government had attempted to stop Higgins from reporting the rape because it would damage their chance of being re-elected.

Lee found that this was unlikely to have been the case.

‘The cover-up allegation was objectively short on facts but long on speculation,” he said.

“The allegation of rape was the minor theme and the allegation of cover-up was the major motif.”

Senator Linda Reynolds, the former minister for defence who employed both Lehrmann and Higgins, is currently suing Higgins in a separate defamation trial.

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds says she was defamed on social media by Higgins. Photo: AAP

The judge did find that Ten’s efforts to contact Lehrmann with the allegations were inadequate and Wilkinson’s Logies speech had derailed the criminal trial.

Lehrmann’s criminal trial, after Higgins accused him of rape and he was charged, was aborted after juror misconduct.

Ten’s response

Outside the courtroom Wilkinson said the judge had found she published a “true report” about what occurred and that she hoped the decision “gives strength to women around the country”.

Justin Quill, Channel Ten’s solicitor, said the decision was an “unmitigated disaster” for Lehrmann.

“For Channel Ten, it’s vindication,” he said.

“Vindication in its belief and support of Brittany Higgins.”

Will there be a criminal trial?

The defamation trial is a civil proceeding, so no criminal charges were involved.

Lehrmann will face court in Toowoomba over a separate and unrelated allegation of rape, which he has denied.

Will there be an appeal?

Lehrmann has not fronted the media following the decision, so it is unclear if he is planning to appeal against the decision.

The judge who heard the original case must have made a legal mistake of such significance that the decision should be overturned for an appeal to be successful.

No new evidence or information can be presented and no new witnesses can be called during the appeal.

The case will return to court to discuss the issue of legal costs shortly.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.