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Brittany Higgins prepares to testify in Lehrmann’s defamation case

A Queensland MP has recounted a text exchange he had with Brittany Higgins on April 19, 2019.

A Queensland MP has recounted a text exchange he had with Brittany Higgins on April 19, 2019. Photo: AAP

Brittany Higgins is expected to give “graphic and distressing evidence” of being sexually assaulted in her testimony as the first defence witness in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial against Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

Higgins was sworn in Tuesday afternoon at the Federal Court in Sydney after Lehrmann concluded his testimony.

Lehrmann, a former Liberal staffer, is suing Network Ten and Wilkinson in the Federal Court, claiming their interview with Brittany Higgins on The Project in February 2021 defamed him.

Ahead of Higgins’ appearance, Network Ten’s barrister, Matt Collins KC, told the court:

“We expect that [Higgins] will give graphic and distressing evidence of being sexually assaulted by Mr Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds’ office in the period between about 1.48am and about 2.30am on Saturday, the 23rd of March 2019 after a night when she had consumed at least 12 vodka or spirit based drinks, and was more drunk than she had ever been in her life.”

Collins said Higgins would also give evidence about her relationship with Lehrmann in the period before that night, and of his conduct after the alleged sexual assault.

Lehrmann was criminally charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape in the office of senator Linda Reynolds in March 2019.

He denies the allegation, and his criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors did not seek a second trial because of concerns over Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann concluded his testimony on Tuesday after admitting he did not look at a report into parliamentary workplace culture as he faced charges alleging he raped Higgins.

He also alleged Wilkinson acted in a “high-handed and reckless manner”, and prejudiced his approaching trial in a speech she made at the Logies in June 2022.

“You attribute to my client, in these proceedings, very particularly, blame in relation to the prejudicing of your trial because of her Logies speech,” Wilkinson’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said on Tuesday.

Lehrmann later gave interviews with rival media company Seven Network and said the Logies speech and an associated delay in his criminal proceedings “afforded (his lawyers) the opportunity to dig deeper”.

“In fact you agreed with your senior counsel that if it hadn’t perhaps been for that Logies speech and the delay in the trial you would have been in more trouble,” Chrysanthou said.

“Can you define more trouble?” Lehrmann responded.

He disagreed when Chrysanthou suggested he thought the delay caused by the Logies speech saved him from being convicted, and maintained he had been prejudiced by it.

Lehrmann said Seven Network paid for accommodation in locations where the filming took place but told the court he did not know how much it had cost the network.

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ report into parliamentary workplace culture was released in November 2021 after Lehrmann had been charged.

“Did you have a look or read any part of it?”  Chrysanthou asked.

Lehrmann responded: “No.”

However, he did hear then-prime minister Scott Morrison apologise to Higgins in his “stupid parliament speech” months later, Lehrmann said.

Lehrmann also denied ignoring questions from media in the hope of not being named in reports that prompted his admission to hospital in February 2021.

The court was told Lehrmann sought cocaine after learning of the broadcast.

He said he was unable to recall what time he got home the next morning until Ten’s barrister, Collins, suggested it was after 6.30am.

“It appears that way, yes,” Lehrmann said after seeing a text message he sent friends.

Lehrmann later checked into Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.

Other messages showed Lehrmann had “flirted” with the idea of contacting media prior to broadcast.

He told the court he possibly would have told The Project they were defaming him with completely false comments, if he had seen the “quite detailed” questions they sent him before broadcast.

Lehrmann has settled separate defamation proceedings against News.com.au and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over their reports about Higgins’ allegations.

A landmark report into the ACT legal system and the Higgins case was released in August, making damning findings against now ex-director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold over his conduct during the case.

Lehrmann is also accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

An attempt to maintain the suppression of his identity following law changes in Queensland was recently rejected in court, with Lehrmann’s interviews on Seven’s Spotlight program helping sink his bid to keep his name out of the headlines.

He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

-with AAP

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