Lehrmann ‘plans to appeal’ defamation ruling, court told

A judge is poised to hand down an order declaring how much Bruce Lehrmann must pay after losing his defamation case.

A judge is poised to hand down an order declaring how much Bruce Lehrmann must pay after losing his defamation case. Images: AAP/Getty/TND

Lawyers for Bruce Lehrmann have told the Federal Court he plans to appeal the verdict in his failed defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

The statement came as Justice Michael Lee heard submissions on Wednesday about how much Lehrmann should pay following his lost case.

Barrister David Helvadjian sought an extension of time for Lehrmann to lodge an appeal, partly to consider the lengthy judgment and more than 1000 exhibits.

“New senior counsel has been briefed to provide advice on prospects,” he said.

Lee agreed to the extension, which was unopposed by Ten and Wilkinson.

Appellants normally have four weeks from the date of a judgment to lodge an appeal – May 13 for Lehrmann. On Wednesday, he was given until May 31.

Ten and Wilkinson separately retained some of the nation’s finest legal minds when Lehrmann launched action over a February 2021 report aired on The Project. He argued it 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 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.

Lehrmann’s liability for repaying costs after losing the case could skyrocket into the millions.

Earlier on Wednesday, Lee took aim at Ten lawyer Justin Quill, who “immediately after the judgment and without even reading” it, made comments critical of his decision.

Outside the Federal Court after the decision was handed down last month, Quill called the result an “unmitigated disaster” for Lehrmann, and said Ten had been vindicated.

He also said “the way in which judges and barristers pick apart and dissect what journalists did or didn’t do in applying a legal threshold or legal test of reasonableness is quite often divorced from reality”.

Lee said Quill’s statement was disrespectful and wrong.

Ten’s lawyer, Dr Matt Collins KC, argued the network’s conduct outside court was not relevant to the issue of costs. He said Quill’s statement “could not have a rational bearing upon the proper disposition of costs”.

In a further development, the court has published the letter to Lehrmann in which Ten made him a “walk away” offer to settle the case.

“Your client has previously stated that he has nothing to lose,” the network’s lawyers said, following Lehrmann’s appearance on Seven’s Spotlight program.

“He, in fact, has a great deal to lose if he proceeds to a trial in this proceeding.”

The lawyers said it was “plain from the evidence” that Lehrmann would lose his case.

“Your client has, to date, never had to give his version [of events] under oath,” the letter said.

“At the trial he will need to explain all of the inconsistencies and cracks that have emerged in his story since the night in question.”

Ten’s letter said the offer was a genuine compromise that involved the network giving up “the opportunity to obtain a judgment which vindicated their journalism”.

Lee has reserved his judgment on the legal costs to consider Wednesday’s submissions.

Sharaz quits defamation case

Wednesday’s Federal Court hearing came a day after another edition in the long-running Lehrmann saga, this time in Perth.

Higgins’ fiance David Sharaz was accused of “insulting” Liberal senator Linda Reynolds after announcing he will no longer fight her defamation battle.

The former defence minister is suing Higgins and Sharaz over social media posts she says damaged her reputation.

On Tuesday, Higgins failed in the Western Australian Supreme Court to have her case delayed due to mental health issues.

During the hearing, Sharaz tweeted he was throwing in the towel, which was confirmed by his lawyer Jason MacLaurin SC.

“Despite our best efforts, Linda Reynolds has not accepted attempts to resolve this matter through mediation and Brittany may now be exposed to another trial. It will be her third,” Sharaz said on social media.

“I cannot afford to pay legal costs to defend myself over a six-week trial.

“As a result, I have today informed the court that I will not fight Reynolds’ legal action anymore.

“I now appeal for Senator Reynolds to settle her litigation against Brittany, a rape victim, by agreeing to disagree and putting all of this behind them.”

Outside court, Reynolds’ lawyer Martin Bennett said Sharaz’s post was insulting, aggravating and an “attention-seeking stunt to manipulate the media”.

“That’s what Mr Sharaz does best,” he said.

Bennett agreed it was perversely ironic that Sharaz would make the announcement in a tweet while his defamation action over tweets was being heard.

“It seemed to be staged … You’ve seen the terms of the post – it’s another attack on Senator Reynolds,” he said.

He raised doubts about Sharaz’s claim he couldn’t afford to continue the case.

“He lives in a chateau. He hasn’t got a job and he’s got a QC … and two solicitors representing him,” he said.

Bennett said the case against Sharaz would proceed even if he was not represented in court and Reynolds would prove her damages.

“If he’s impecunious, as he asserts, in France – he’ll go bankrupt,” he said.

Justice Paul Tottle said the parties were likely to be best served by a conclusion to the case sooner rather than later.

The case returns to court on May 10.

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-with AAP

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