Australian court to rule on defamation suit in parliament rape case

By Thomson Reuters Apr 14, 2024 | 4:02 PM

By Alasdair Pal

SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian court will rule on Monday in a defamation suit brought by a former government adviser accused of raping a colleague on the grounds of parliament, in a case that has gripped the nation.

Bruce Lehrmann, a staffer in a previous government headed by the Liberal Party, which is now in opposition, was accused of raping Brittany Higgins in a ministerial office in the capital, Canberra, in 2019.

The criminal trial collapsed in 2022 after a juror was found conducting individual research into the case, and a proposed retrial abandoned after prosecutors said it would severely harm Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann denies all wrongdoing.

Higgins’ accusation rocked the government of then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who struggled to assuage public anger ahead of a federal election, amid reports of sexual abuse, female discrimination and misconduct in parliament.

Morrison lost power in 2022.

The case has since gone on to embroil two of Australia’s largest media organisations after Higgins, who waived her right to anonymity during the initial criminal trial, gave an interview to Network Ten about her experience.

Although not mentioned by name in the interview, Lehrmann is suing Network Ten for defamation, with his lawyers saying he was clearly identifiable.

Australia’s Federal Court hearing the case was told lurid details of how producers at rival TV network Seven spent thousands of dollars on drugs and sex workers in a bid to secure an exclusive interview with Lehrmann.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)