Ten likely to pay Wilkinson’s defamation defence costs

Lisa Wilkinson was "inextricably intertwined" with Brittany Higgins, Ten's lawyer has testified.

Lisa Wilkinson was "inextricably intertwined" with Brittany Higgins, Ten's lawyer has testified. Photo: Getty

Network Ten isn’t arguing about Lisa Wilkinson hiring her own legal representation in a defamation fight with Bruce Lehrmann but is questioning the bill.

Network Ten is set to pay at least some of journalist Lisa Wilkinson’s legal costs for Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation suit against her and the broadcaster.

Wilkinson launched a cross-claim against Ten after retaining her own legal representation in the defamation matter, arguing she did not have faith the company would act in her interests.

The defamation case followed a February 2021 report on The Project that aired Brittany Higgins’ claims she was raped in Parliament House.

Wilkinson said Ten had refused to publicly admit its lawyer and top executives approved her speech.

Her alleged attacker, fellow Liberal staffer Lehrmann, was not named in the broadcast.

Ten lawyer Robert Dick SC told a Federal Court hearing on Wednesday that the broadcaster no longer contended with Wilkinson retaining her own legal team but did take issue with the scope of the costs.

Wilkinson took on high-profile defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC for her defence at an estimated cost of well over $700,000.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee said it was “plain beyond peradventure” that it was reasonable for Wilkinson to retain separate lawyers, but he said the exact amount owed by Ten would best be determined at a later date.

“This is not a case where Ms Wilkinson acted unthinkingly in retaining separate representation,” he said.

Justice Lee said it would wait until after the defamation trial was finished to determine the exact nature of the costs.

The veteran journalist gave evidence on Tuesday that Ten had refused to publicly admit the network’s senior legal counsel, Tasha Smithies, and executives gave their approval for her controversial 2022 Logies acceptance speech.

Wilkinson said after the speech she felt “isolated, unprotected and abandoned” by Ten.

In an affidavit, Wilkinson said after the speech, which praised Higgins but led to Lehrmann’s rape trial being delayed, she felt “isolated, unprotected and abandoned” by Ten.

She added that given the breakdown in the relationship between her and the broadcaster she did not have any confidence the network would make legal decisions in her interests in the defamation case.

On Wednesday, Smithies told the court Wilkinson had become “part of the story” at the time of her speech and to deviate from her support of Higgins could create greater problems with her giving evidence at Lehrmann’s trial.

Ten retained Marlia Saunders and Matthew Collins KC to represent both the company and Wilkinson in the defamation case.

Saunders also appeared on the witness stand on Wednesday, facing questions about whether any conflict arose in representing both Ten and Wilkinson.

She said it was her understanding Ten did not want to make a submission to an inquiry into Lehrmann’s failed prosecution because it was not a “commercially” good idea.

Smithies said no conflict had arisen between the parties at that stage.

Chrysanthou said Wilkinson was keen to appear at the Canberra-based inquiry to apologise in person, but was advised by Ten lawyers that would “make things worse”.

Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins SC called the speech “ill advised” in an interview on Seven Network.

Shortly after the Logies speech, Collins was interviewed on Seven’s Sunrise program, in which he called the speech “ill-advised”.

In her affidavit, Wilkinson said she could not understand why the barrister had been engaged to act for her when he had just criticised her on national television.

Five months after the Logies speech, Wilkinson was informed she would be removed as co-host of The Project with two years still left on her contract.

Wilkinson said she was informed by her agent the decision to remove her was because there was too much heat on her following the Logies and therefore too much “brand damage”.

Lehrmann has always denied any sexual contact occurred with Higgins. His criminal trial was eventually derailed by juror misconduct.


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