‘Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins’: Judge dismisses Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson

Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson have been found not guilty of defaming Bruce Lehrmann during a 2021 television interview with Brittany Higgins, and a subsequent Logies speech.

Lehrmann sued Channel Ten and Wilkinson over a 2021 interview with Higgins in which she said she was raped in Parliament House by a work colleague. Although Lehrmann was not named in the interview, he alleges details given during the broadcast made it clear he was the accused colleague, a claim which “utterly destroyed him”.

Lehrmann denied Higgins’ allegations in a criminal trial against him that was dropped last year, following juror misconduct.

In dismissing the defamation suit, Justice Michael Lee found that Lehrmann raped Higgins.

“Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat,” he said, before delivering his verdict.

UPDATE: ‘This judgement is a triumph for truth’: Network 10 reacts to Lehrmann decision

Over two hours, Lee read an overview of his 324-page judgement, referring to both Lehrmann and Higgins as “unreliable historians” throughout, giving numerous examples of both parties’ less-than-strict adherence to the truth.

“Given the public interest in the case, I will attempt to provide an oral overview of my findings,” he said.

“Alas, even this oral summary will be lengthy,” he added, pointing to the “complexity” of the case and that “the endless controversy has become a cause celebre”.

However, he noted that “only one man and one woman know the truth.” Court was then adjourned for half an hour while the audio and video feed was fixed.

After reconvening, Lee dealt harshly with the validity of both Higgins and Lehrmann’s various claims. He repeated Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins’ quote that “Lehrmann was revealed to be a fundamentally dishonest man who was prepared to say or do anything he perceived to advance his interests,” and added he doesn’t believe Lehrmann is a “compulsive liar”, but told lies nonetheless, saying these untruths were “legion”.

Lee then outlined a number of times in which Lehrmann gave “false evidence on a litany of matters”. He later called Lehrmann’s account of why the pair returned to Parliament House “an elaborate fantasy”.

Conversely, he rejected claims that Higgins was fundamentally untruthful, pointing to studies in memory and trauma, and noting that Higgins told broadly the same story to journalist Samantha Maiden as she did to Wilkinson, and told this same story for two years.

Lee did, however, note Higgins “sometimes told untruths when it suited her” and “crafted a narrative accusing others of putting up roadblocks” that was later shown to be untrue.

He pointed to her changing her story regarding why they returned to Parliament House that evening, and the validity of the so-called ‘bruise’ photograph, noting this was never tendered to the AFP, and that no metadata from the photograph was ever produced – and that Higgins wiped the phone on which the photo was allegedly taken. He found Network 10’s “lack of curiosity” in following up on this photograph when reporting on it to be troubling.

He also found Higgins’ “out-of-court” representation made in 2019 were of a “different character” to those made in 2021, with Lee saying Higgins initially took a “lighter” tone when relaying the events of the evening in question. He noted that “nuance is required” when assessing this, saying her actions in 2019 were “not inconsistent with the conduct of a genuine victim of sexual assault”.

Lee noted Wilkinson’s history of publicly “celebrating and lending credence” to Higgins’ story, and “a lack of candour in the witness box” in admitting as such.

He also blasted Network 10’s lax approach in seeking comment from Lehrmann before airing Higgins’ allegations — “He was not living the life of a hermit,” Lee said. “He was working for a public relations firm in Sydney” — saying that both Wilkinson, and producer Angus Llewellyn “started from the premise that what Ms. Higgins said about her allegations was necessarily true.”

Lee is satisfied that sexual intercourse took place between the pair, but isn’t convinced that Higgins repeatedly vocally resisted during the act, nor that Lehrmann caused the aforementioned bruise on Higgins’ leg. He did, however, say that “any suggestion that some form of active resistance is determinative for the question of consent will be discarded”, and that he found Higgins’ evidence of her mindset during the alleged rape was “credible” and “had the ring of truth” – and that she did not consent to intercourse.

Lee stressed his job isn’t to find whether a criminal ‘rape’ occurred, under the technical and varied legal definitions of the term, but whether the respondents proved that any such act would be perceived under “the natural and ordinary meaning of the word ‘rape.'” He also stressed his judgment is on the “balance of probabilities” rather than the “beyond reasonable doubt” proof required in a criminal case.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins”, he concluded.


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