Bruce Lehrmann is contemplating suing the ABC over its decision to live broadcast a statement made by Brittany Higgins outside court after his trial was aborted.
Lehrmann has been widely reported to be considering “legal remedies”, including an unfair dismissal claim and defamation, after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a retrial due to fears about its impact on Higgins.
The Guardian understands that Lehrmann is considering suing the ABC for defamation for the live broadcasting of Higgins’ statement on 27 October, which was made outside the ACT supreme court after the collapse of the trial.
Higgins spoke about her experience of the justice system, her cross-examination, and compared her own treatment with the accused’s right to silence.
Some media outlets ran only excerpts of that statement due to legal constraints. The ABC broadcast the statement in full, live to air.
“Her appearance on the ABC is certainly one of the things we’re looking at,” a source close to Lehrmann said.
No decisions have yet been made and no concerns notices have been sent.
Lehrmann is now taking advice from top defamation lawyer Mark O’Brien. O’Brien has previously worked for Ben Roberts-Smith in his defamation case against Fairfax. The Guardian confirmed on Wednesday morning that O’Brien had been engaged.
The ABC was approached for a response.
Higgins’ statement outside court also prompted a referral by defence barrister Steven Whybrow to police for possible contempt of court.
ACT policing said it was still examining the referral.
“While this assessment occurs no further comment will be made,” a spokesperson said.
Other outlets have reported Lehrmann is contemplating suing Channel 10’s The Project for its initial interview with Higgins in 2021.
Meanwhile, Higgins is continuing to press her own civil claims against two former ministers, Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds. Guardian Australia understands that Cash is inclined towards settling any claim that is made.
Reynolds is understood to be preparing to fight the claim against her, which was first reported by news.com.au on Sunday.
In a statement, Reynolds said she was contacted by law firm Blumers in March of a “civil claim by Ms Higgins against me and other parties”. She said the claims were yet to be filed.
“Blumers advised me on Friday that their client intends to progress the civil claim this month,” Reynolds said.
Higgins’ partner, David Sharaz, tweeted criticism of Reynolds for releasing details of the claim while Higgins was still fragile and receiving mental health care.
The Guardian also understands that police are continuing to investigate a misconduct complaint made by Higgins against ACT policing in April. The complaint was made after police sent her counselling notes and other sensitive information to Lehrmann’s legal team. Higgins is yet to receive a full response to her complaint.
Director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold has also expressed serious concerns about the distribution of police material which appeared in the Australian on Saturday. In a statement, he revealed he had previously made a complaint about related conduct.
“I am greatly concerned that potentially legally protected material may have again been unlawfully distributed,” he told the Guardian. “Given myself and others have already raised concerns about matters that are currently under investigation, it would not be appropriate to comment further whilst investigations are under way.”
Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
He faced trial in the ACT supreme court for the alleged rape of Higgins in parliament house, but the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.
The jury had deliberated for five days without reaching a verdict before the trial was aborted.