Lehrmann could face major bill for defamation blunder

Bruce Lehrmann is accused of causing more than $13,000 worth of damage to a Sydney property.

Bruce Lehrmann is accused of causing more than $13,000 worth of damage to a Sydney property. Photo: AAP

A court will hear submissions about how much Bruce Lehrmann should be forced to pay following his failed defamation suit against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

Ten and Wilkinson separately retained some of the nation’s most highly-sought after legal representation, which could mean Lehrmann’s liability for repaying their costs skyrockets into the millions.

Lehrmann sued the network and Wilkinson over a February 2021 report aired on The Project, which he argued ruined his reputation by falsely claiming he raped Brittany Higgins in a Parliament House office almost two years earlier.

The 28-year-old lost the case after Justice Michael Lee found, on the balance of probabilities, Lehrmann did in fact rape Higgins and later lied about it repeatedly, including throughout the defamation proceedings.

“Having escaped the lions’ den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of going back for his hat,” Lee said in his ruling in April.

In submissions on costs made public last Tuesday, Ten’s lawyers described Lehrmann pursuing the claim as “deliberately wicked and calculated”.

“Mr Lehrmann engaged in an abuse of the court’s processes, ran a case based on positive falsities, and put Network Ten to the cost of defending a baseless proceeding,” barrister Matt Collins KC wrote.

However, Lehrmann’s barrister David Helvadjian contended he acted reasonably in bringing the lawsuit to vindicate his reputation, despite the result.

“[The] allegation was of serious criminal conduct, the allegation had not been established in any criminal proceedings, the respondents bore the onus of proof, and [Lehrmann] disputed the truth of the allegation,” he wrote.

Helvadjian also argued Ten and Wilkinson failed to investigate shortcomings in claims made by Higgins, and therefore may not have acted reasonably in going ahead with the report.

Wilkinson and Ten producer Angus Llewellyn proceeded with an “active ignorance” about warning signs that should have been clear from the start, he said, including claims of a government cover-up that Lee dismissed.

Lehrmann should be compensated for the time and expense in proving Ten and Wilkinson’s defence of their reporting wrong, he argued.

Collins said Lehrmann had unreasonably rejected a “walk away” settlement offer from in August 2023, despite a very real prospect his case would fail.

“It must have been apparent to Mr Lehrmann, as at the date of the offer, that the chickens were coming home to roost,” he wrote.

Ten is arguing Lehrmann’s conduct was so bad in bringing the lawsuit that he should be hit with indemnity costs, forcing him to pay the entirety of its legal bill.

“He put Network Ten to the cost of defending this proceeding, which can be, with the benefit of hindsight, described as a clear abuse of process aimed at concealing the truth that Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins,” Collins wrote.

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National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

-with AAP

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