Lehrmann judge allows ‘clearly fresh evidence’ that could impact decision

Network Ten lawyer Dr Matthew Collins KC (second right) arrives to the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Network Ten lawyer Dr Matthew Collins KC (second right) arrives to the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. Photo: AAP

The Is were dotted, the Ts crossed and it sat in a judge’s office waiting to be read out on Thursday.

But the high-stakes judgment in Bruce Lehrmann’s lawsuit against Network Ten won’t see the light of day just yet after an extraordinary bid to reopen the defamation case on eve of its ultimate ruling.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee on Tuesday night accepted Ten’s last-minute bid to admit fresh evidence.

The evidence suggests Lehrmann, a former political staffer, abused a court process concerning text messages of Brittany Higgins, who he denies raping in a Parliament House office in 2019.

Lee said the evidence could change the determination of the case and agreed with Ten that it went further than drawing Lehrmann’s credibility into question.

“This is clearly fresh evidence,” Lee said.

The reopening of the case means the parties will return on Thursday and Friday to hear from new witness and former television producer Taylor Auerbach.

Auerbach will reveal how he came into possession of text messages between Higgins and her former boyfriend, provided in another court case involving Lehrmann.

The producer had worked to secure an exclusive interview with Lehrmann for network rival Seven in 2023, later revealed in court to have involved a $100,000 in-kind payment.

Ten’s barrister, Dr Matthew Collins KC, on Tuesday suggested the “deeply personal exchanges” were provided by Lehrmann in breach of a long-standing legal rule known as the Harman undertaking.

That requires material provided under compulsory court order to only be used for the purpose for which it was provided.

Bruce Lehrmann’s lawyer Matthew Richardson SC argued against reopening the case. Photo: AAP

Lehrmann, through his lawyer, urged Lee to dismiss the last-minute application.

“This stuff is trivial, it’s just not relevant and to give leave to reopen on that sort of material would be inappropriate,” Matthew Richardson SC said.

Lee, who quipped during Tuesday’s urgent hearing that he thought he’d finished his work on this case last week, will hear the evidence from Thursday afternoon.

He remained hopeful of delivering his judgment next week but would confirm on Monday, he said.

The last-minute hearing came after Ten filed its bid to reopen the case on Easter Sunday.

The case, brought by Lehrmann, concerns a February 2021 report by journalist Lisa Wilkinson on The Project where Higgins was interviewed about her alleged rape in a Parliament House office in Canberra in March 2019.

Lehrmann is seeking extensive damages, saying those reports have destroyed his reputation.

Reynolds, Higgins defamation case returns to court

A pair of high-profile defamation cases that pit Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds against Higgins and her fiance will to return to court after mediation.

The former defence minister is suing Higgins – who once worked for the senator – and David Sharaz over social media posts that she says have damaged her reputation.

The parties attended a closed-door mediation hearing in the Western Australian Supreme Court last month. It is understood to have failed.

They are scheduled to appear in the same court on Wednesday for a directions hearing, where their lawyers could lay out a plan for more peace talks or a trial. It was previously provisionally listed for six weeks from July 24.

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

Reynolds is suing Sharaz over tweets and a Facebook comment from 2022.

Among the defamatory imputations claimed against Sharaz’s tweets were that Reynolds pressured Higgins not to proceed with a genuine complaint to police, “is a hypocrite in her advocacy for women’s interests and empowerment”, interfered in Lehrmann’s trial, and bullied Higgins.

Reynolds claims she was also defamed by Sharaz’s reply to a comment on her Facebook page that asked how she was still in politics having “destroyed” Higgins.

The commenter added, “You’re a monster who deserves to be in jail”.

Sharaz responded: “Thanks for reminding her. I hope she hears this every day until she dies”, the Senator’s statement of claim says.

Higgins is accused of posting defamatory material on two occasions on her Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Higgins alleged she was raped in 2019 by Lehrmann inside Reynolds’ ministerial office, where he also worked as a staffer.

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

Prosecutors decided not to pursue further action, citing concerns about the impact it may have on Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann has since been charged with raping another woman in Queensland. His lawyers have indicated he will plead not guilty.


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