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Court approves $2 million Lehrmann bill in ‘deal of century’

Network Ten agreed to discount the funds it was seeking from Bruce Lehrmann.

Network Ten agreed to discount the funds it was seeking from Bruce Lehrmann. Photo: AAP

Bruce Lehrmann has been ordered to pay $2 million to Ten after losing his defamation case, in what his lawyer says might be the ‘”deal of the century”.

But the 29-year-old is unlikely to ever hand over the sum after a court was told he was of “modest means” with little ability to pay.

Justice Michael Lee in April found a Network Ten report on The Project in February 2021 did not defame Lehrmann when it effectively outed him as an alleged rapist.

The Federal Court judge found, on the balance of probabilities, that the 29-year-old sexually assaulted Brittany Higgins in the Parliament House office of their then-boss Senator Linda Reynolds in March 2019.

On Thursday, Lee finalised Ten’s bill against Lehrmann after the network agreed to discount the amount it was seeking and quickly resolve the dispute.

Ten’s overall legal expenses for defending the case amounted to almost $3.7 million. But after Lee found the network had failed in a key defence and its legal team lost some preliminary applications, Lehrmann’s bill was reduced to about $3.1 million.

Ten agreed to bill Lehrmann for a flat rate of $2 million after a hefty discount, the network’s barrister Zoe Graus said on Thursday.

Lehrmann did not consent to or oppose the order, but his lawyer Paul Svilans told the court he did not know enough about how Ten’s lawyers had been paid to know whether the discounted amount was realistic.

“It might be the deal of the century, the $2 million, for all I know,” he said.

Lee approved the amount, finding it was well within what would have been recoverable given the lawsuit’s complexity and length.

But he noted Lehrmann was “a man of modest means” and there was no real likelihood he would be able to pay the substantial bill.

It has previously been revealed that the 29-year-old had no financial backers in the case. Lehrmann will also not have to pay the costs of his own lawyers, who represented him on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Ten was willing to pay about $558,000 to journalist Lisa Wilkinson for her legal costs after she was also sued, Graus said.

The network had initially offered to pay its former high-profile journalist $607,000 in a compromise that was later deemed “overgenerous”, Lee was told. He heard previously that Wilkinson would seek $1.8 million in costs.

However, uncertainty about her agreement with law firm Gillis Delaney meant her bill would be assessed by a referee to determine how much Ten should cover and what should be passed on to Lehrmann.

If this amount was less than $558,000, Wilkinson would have to repay the excess, Graus said.

Wilkinson’s top defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC charged $8000 for each day at trial while Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins KC charged $11,000.

Lehrmann denies any sexual activity between himself and Higgins and has appealed Lee’s findings against him.

His criminal trial on a charge of rape was aborted due to juror misconduct. Prosecutors abandoned any retrial, out of concern for Higgins’ mental health.

brittany higgins Linda reynolds

Linda Reynolds defamation trial against Brittany Higgins will go ahead in August.

Fresh trial date set

On the other side of the country, a trial date has been set for Reynolds and Higgins’ high-profile defamation battle.

The former defence minister, who will retire from politics at the next election, is suing Higgins over a series of social media posts she says damaged her reputation.

Mediation failed to resolve the case, which returned to the Western Australian Supreme Court for a directions hearing on Wednesday.

A trial date of August 2 was agreed. The matter has been set down for four to five weeks to accommodate more than 20 witnesses and parliamentary sitting dates.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison could be called as a witness, Reynolds’ lawyer has previously said, along with other members of the federal Liberal Party, including senators Michaelia Cash and Wendy Askew.

Although a trial date has been fixed, the parties could choose to attempt further mediation to resolve the case.

Reynolds last week said she was determined to get justice over the alleged defamation and that Higgins’ claims had “taken a huge toll on my mental and my physical health”.

She said it was essential that all parties accepted Lee’s findings regarding Lehrmann “so that the many people who have been damaged by this whole saga can get justice and to get peace”.

She also said it was possible that a settlement could still be reached and called for Higgins to admit she was wrong and apologise.

Reynolds was also pursuing Higgins’ husband David Sharaz, for defamation. He announced in April he would no longer fight the case and consented to judgment.

Reynolds claimed Sharaz had also defamed her on social media. He was ordered to delete three tweets, a Facebook post and an Instagram story from 2022 and 2023.

The damages Sharaz will have to pay following his admission will be decided after Higgins’ defamation trial.

1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

-with AAP

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