Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial live: Brittany Higgins to give ‘distressing’ evidence of alleged sexual assault as Ten’s first witness | Law (Australia)


Higgins to give ‘graphic and distressing evidence’ as first defence witness, Network Ten’s barrister tells court

Brittany Higgins will give “graphic and distressing evidence” of being sexually assaulted as the first defence witness in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial.

Network Ten’s barrister, Matt Collins KC said:

We expect that she will give graphic and distressing evidence of being sexually assaulted by Mr Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds office in the period between about 1:48am and about 2:30am on Saturday, the 23rd of March 2019 after a night when she had consumed at least 12 vodka or spirit based drinks, and was more drunk than she had ever been in her life.

She will also give evidence about her relationship with Mr Lehrmann in the period before that night, and of conduct after the alleged sexual assault that is consistent with that assault having occurred.

Collins said the program Lehrmann has sued over “was an important exercise in public interest journalism. Network Ten stands behind its report”.

“We understand why Mr Lehrmann feels aggrieved but his defamation case is misconceived,” Collins said, adding it is bound to fail.

Key events

Medical expert to tell court Higgins’ blood alcohol was likely five time legal limit

A medical expert will tell the court Brittany Higgins had a blood alcohol concentration of five times the legal limit on the night she was allegedly raped, Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial has heard.

Higgins drank multiple vodkas, no non-alcoholic drinks and only ate one slice of pizza and a few hot chips on the night, Ten’s barrister Matt Collins KC told the court in his opening of the defence case.

Collins said his expert witness would say that with that consumption, her blood alcohol concentration would have been 0.23%.

A lip reading expert will also be among a list of 20 witnesses that will be called.

Higgins to give ‘graphic and distressing evidence’ as first defence witness, Network Ten’s barrister tells court

Brittany Higgins will give “graphic and distressing evidence” of being sexually assaulted as the first defence witness in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial.

Network Ten’s barrister, Matt Collins KC said:

We expect that she will give graphic and distressing evidence of being sexually assaulted by Mr Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds office in the period between about 1:48am and about 2:30am on Saturday, the 23rd of March 2019 after a night when she had consumed at least 12 vodka or spirit based drinks, and was more drunk than she had ever been in her life.

She will also give evidence about her relationship with Mr Lehrmann in the period before that night, and of conduct after the alleged sexual assault that is consistent with that assault having occurred.

Collins said the program Lehrmann has sued over “was an important exercise in public interest journalism. Network Ten stands behind its report”.

“We understand why Mr Lehrmann feels aggrieved but his defamation case is misconceived,” Collins said, adding it is bound to fail.

Brittany Higgins is in the public gallery of the court room today.

She was also photographed earlier entering court.

Brittany Higgins
Brittany Higgins (centre) arrives at the federal court of Australia. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP
Brittany Higgins
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Network Ten’s lawyer begins opening for the defence

Bruce Lehrmann’s evidence has now been completed and he has been dismissed from the witness box.

Network Ten’s barrister, Matt Collins KC, has begun his opening for the defence.

As your honour knows, on the 15th of February 2021, Brittany Higgins went public with the allegation that she had been raped in Australian Parliament House by another staffer in the early hours of September Saturday the 23rd of March 2019 on a couch in the office of the honourable senator Linda Reynolds, who had recently been appointed the minister for defence industry, after a night when she had been out drinking together with other ministerial and departmental staff.

The allegations were first published in a story on news.com.au website at about 8am on the 15th of February.

Collins said Lehrmann was not named and the program focused on the handling of the incident by the government.

What Lehrmann and Seven said over interview payment deal

Before the lunch break, Bruce Lehrmann admitted in court that his rent was being paid by the Seven Network for 12 months until June 2024.

The former Liberal staffer has given two interviews to Seven’s Spotlight program this year.

In answer to a question about payment for the interview in May, the Seven Network told Guardian Australia: “7NEWS Spotlight made no payment to Bruce Lehrmann for the interview, however the program assisted with accommodation as part of the filming of the report”.

On Tuesday Lehrmann agreed under cross-examination that Seven had paid his rent for 12 months from June 2023 to June 2024 as part of the deal for an interview with Liam Bartlett.

“Network Seven organised the accommodation,” Lehrmann said in answer to a question about how much Seven had paid.

The court heard that under the agreement with Seven, the network would have access to relevant documents, film, video, photographs and “items of assistance reasonably requested”.

Lehrmann agreed with that but said he did not give them anything except the interview.

“No, I just gave an interview,” Lehrmann said.

Chrysanthou asked: “Was it part of that agreement that you were paid for 12 months’ accommodation by Channel Seven?’

Lehrmann replied: “That’s the only part … that’s what I get.”

Chrysanthou then asked: “That occurred from June 2023 and paid until June 2024?”

Lehrmann replied: “Umm, well, yes. For filming in those places.”

Lehrmann explained that part of the interview was filmed at his place of residence.

Chrysanthou said the Seven contract was produced on subpoena by Network Seven and would be discussed later in the trial.

What we heard so far today

Bruce Lehrmann was back in the witness box today under cross-examination in the fifth day of the defamation trial he brought against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

Ten and Wilkinson are defending the case – you can read more about their defences here.

If you’re just joining us, here’s what we heard this morning:

Lehrmann will be back on the stand this afternoon, where he will be re-examined by his own legal team.

Lehrmann’s cross-examination ends

Bruce Lehrmann’s cross-examination is over and the court has adjourned for lunch.

This afternoon Lehrmann will be re-examined by his own legal team.

Network Ten and Wilkinson’s legal teams will then present their defence and call witnesses, including Brittany Higgins.

Bruce Lehrmann
Bruce Lehrmann is seen during a break at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, November 28, 2023. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Lehrmann asked if Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech saved him by delaying criminal trial

The federal court has heard how Bruce Lehrmann blamed former ACT prosecutor Shane Drumgold for ruining his life.

Sue ChrysanthouLisa Wilkinson’s barrister – put it to Lehrmann that Wilkinson’s Logies speech saved him by delaying the criminal trial.

Chrysanthou said: “So what I want to suggest to you, rather than feel upset at my client [Wilkinson], and I’m talking about as at this day, that she engaged in conduct that had a prejudicial impact on your criminal trial, you actually think that the delay caused by the Logies speech saved you from conviction?”

Lehrmann replied: “No, I disagree”.

Chrysanthou then asked: “I want to suggest to you that you now believe that she [Wilkinson] did not act in a reckless and high-handed manner?

Lehrmann replied: “No, I don’t.”

Lisa Wilkinson (left) and her barrister Sue Chrysanthou (right) arrive at the federal court in Sydney today.
Lisa Wilkinson (left) and her barrister Sue Chrysanthou (right) arrive at the federal court in Sydney today. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Lehrmann reveals in court Seven paid his rent for a year in interview deal

Bruce Lehrmann has admitted his rent was paid by the Seven Network for his interview on the Spotlight program.

Lehrmann agreed under cross-examination that Seven had paid his rent for 12 months as part of the deal.

“Network Seven organised the accommodation,” Lehrmann said.

The court heard that under the agreement with Seven the network would have access to relevant documents as well as an exclusive interview.

Lehrmann agreed but said he did not give them anything except the interview.

Chrysanthou: “[Journalist] Liam Bartlett in questioning you in the second interview said to you that according to your own counsel, you were very close to being convicted?”

Lehrmann: “Yes.”

Lehrmann calls Scott Morrison’s apology to Brittany Higgins ‘stupid’ during cross-examination

Bruce Lehrmann has called Scott Morrison’s apology in parliament to Brittany Higgins “stupid” during a cross-examination in the federal court.

The former prime minister made an apology to those who had experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or bullying while working in federal parliament and apologised specifically to Higgins for the “terrible things that took place here”.

Lisa Wilkinson’s barrister, Sue Chrysanthou SC, asked him if he remembers the day Morrison made the statement.

Chrysanthou: “Do you remember that”?

Lehrmann: “His stupid parliament speech? Yes.”

Chrysanthou is cross-examining Lehrmann about all the other publications and public speeches and broadcasts that had mentioned the allegation.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Lehrmann asked about settlements

Sue Chrysanthou, for Lisa Wilkinson, is cross-examining Bruce Lehrmann about the claims he has made in his defamation case against her client.

Lehrmann has agreed he was happy with the confidential settlement he reached with news.com.au publisher News Corp despite the fact that the article complained of remains online.

The news.com.au article did not name Lehrmann but it detailed the allegation by Brittany Higgins that she was raped by a Liberal staffer in Parliament House.

Lehrmann agreed that he settled his defamation case with the ABC last week.

The settlement did not include the removal of a Four Corners program about the Higgins alleged rape, the court heard.

Lehrmann agreed that the Four Corners broadcast remains online as a video and as a transcript.

Lisa Wilkinson (left) and her barrister Sue Chrysanthou (right) arrive at the federal court in Sydney today.
Lisa Wilkinson (left) and her barrister Sue Chrysanthou (right) arrive at the federal court in Sydney today. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Chrysanthou says she intends to table confidential settlements

Sue Chrysanthou has told the court she intends to table the two confidential settlements Bruce Lehrmann reached with the ABC and News Corp.

Lehrmann sued the ABC and News Corp but they both settled before the matter reached court last week.

Justice Michael Lee has given Network Ten’s and Lisa Wilkinson’s legal teams access to the documents.

If Chrysanthou is given leave to table the documents they will be made public.

Chrysanthou said she wants to cross-examine Lehrmann about any “hurt feelings” he claims to have and Lee has allowed it.

The witness has returned to the witness box.

Wilkinson’s barrister given access to News Corp and ABC settlements

A barrister acting for News Corp, publisher of news.com.au, has appeared in court to say that the details of News Corp’s legal settlement with Bruce Lehrmann – particularly the dollar value of the settlement – are confidential and should not be subjected to cross-examination.

Lisa Wilkinson’s silk Sue Chrysanthou SC told the court she should be allowed to ask questions of the witness, Lehrmann.

Justice Michael Lee said it is his job to protect the witness from too many cross-examinations by different barristers.

Chrysanthou has asked for access to the two confidential legal settlements Lehrmann reached with News Corp and the ABC. Lee has agreed to her request.

Both media organisations settled with Lehrmann before the trial started.

Chrysanthou said News Corp was “one of the largest media conglomerates in the country and I’m pretty sure is in favour of freedom of speech and open justice”.

Lee warned her not to make speeches.

Bruce Lehrmann photographed on his way into court today:

Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the federal court of Australia in Sydney.
Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the federal court of Australia in Sydney. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

How Lehrmann’s name was revealed

Bruce Lehrmann has agreed that the first publication to name him and publish photographs of him was not The Project or news.com.au but two independent crime websites.

Matt Collins:

So you understood when you saw this, this was an investigation that [True Crime News Weekly] had undertaken of your social media presence?

Lehrmann:

Clearly, yeah. And … probably with some assistance.

Collins said the article referred to Lehrmann’s LinkedIn profile and other social media accounts.

Wilkinson’s silk Sue Chrysanthou is now on her feet asking Justice Michael Lee for leave to cross-examine Lehrmann.

Questions about night The Project interview went to air

Bruce Lehrmann stayed up all night and got home at 6.30am after The Project aired in 2021 but he said in his affidavit that he went home and couldn’t sleep, a federal court has heard this morning.

After the court was shown a text he sent saying he was going home at 6.30am, he said:

My recollection is I went home at some point, I clearly didn’t recall either going out again, and coming back home.

Lehrmann agreed under cross-examination that he had presented at Royal North Shore hospital on the Tuesday after The Project aired on the Monday night.

Network Ten’s barrister Matt Collins KC took Lehrmann to notes about a conversation he had with a doctor at the hospital when he was seen at 9pm.

Collins put it to him that he had told the medical registrar he had been “contacted by multiple journalists on the morning of 15 February”.

Lehrmann disagreed, saying he would not have told the doctor that. Lehrmann said he had not received an email from The Project producer and he had not had contact with any other journalists until the afternoon.

This blog will cover major developments during the day.

In the interests of open justice and due to significant public interest, the federal court is livestreaming this case.

You can follow it on YouTube.

Good morning

Bruce Lehrmann is back in the witness box today under cross-examination in the fifth day of the defamation trial he brought against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

Ten and Wilkinson are defending the case and you can read more about their defences here:

It was revealed in the federal court yesterday under cross-examination that the former Liberal staffer had lied twice in a letter to his boss and again in an interview he gave to Seven’s Spotlight program.

Collins then asked: “What explanation do you give for that lie?”

Lehrmann could not explain why he lied to his boss about his whereabouts, saying he was in Canberra but he had plans to go back to Queensland; and his “headspace” was unclear about the allegations he was facing and he was “was probably trying to play it down”.

He admitted lying during an interview with Channel 7’s Spotlight program about his reason for lying to Brown about why he entered Parliament House after hours. He said he had lied in the interview with Seven because it was “hastily arranged” and was a “very nerve-racking time”.

He has been cross-examined for multiple hours by Ten’s silk, Matt Collins KC, who has asked him to explain why he gave differing accounts of what happened in the wake of an after-hours visit to Parliament House in 2019.

Before the end of proceedings on Monday Lehrmann explained to Justice Michael Lee that he was under so much pressure after Brittany Higgins went public on The Project with an allegation of rape that his mental health had “spiralled” and he asked a friend to bring him cocaine.

Collins:

Your reaction to spiralling was to ask for cocaine … to have cocaine brought to you?

Lehrmann:

I was in a bad place. Yes.

It is unclear when Lehrmann’s cross-examination will wrap up but Lee said on Monday that Wilkinson’s silk, Sue Chrysanthou SC, would be given leave to cross-examine Lehrmann in a limited manner.

Lee said it was unfair for a witness to be examined by two different barristers on the same subject.

Lehrmann has always denied the rape allegation and, in a previous criminal trial about the matter, pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

The criminal trial was aborted after it was discovered a juror had conducted their own research in relation to the case and had taken the document into the deliberation room.

In December prosecutors dropped charges against Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health.

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