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The New Daily
The New Daily
Miklos Bolza

Bruce Lehrmann fights to keep defamation actions alive

Bruce Lehrmann is pursuing defamation action against Network Ten and News Corp. Photo: AAP

Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann faces the prospect that two late-filed defamation cases over media reports regarding the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins could be dismissed.

In a Federal Court hearing on Thursday, Network Ten, News Corp and journalist Lisa Wilkinson all attacked Mr Lehrmann’s lawsuits, arguing the cases were filed outside the required 12-month period.

The cases were launched on February 7 this year, almost two years after Ten program The Project and a separate News article by Samantha Maiden reported on Ms Higgins’ allegations.

Ms Higgins accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her in the Parliament House office of former minister Linda Reynolds, who they both worked for, in 2019. He has always strenuously denied this claim.

Mr Lehrmann’s barrister, Matthew Richardson SC, said it would not have been reasonable for his client to launch the defamation cases sooner because of ongoing criminal proceedings against him.

Australian Federal Police charged Mr Lehrmann in August 2021. After going to trial, the jury was discharged in October last year due to potential jury misconduct.

Prosecutors said they would no longer pursue the charges in December, citing concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Mr Lehrmann had the benefit of the full 12-month period to file the lawsuits and should not have been forced to launch proceedings in the six months before he was charged, Mr Richardson told Justice Michael Lee on Thursday.

Inconsistencies between evidence given by Mr Lehrmann in court last week and WhatsApp messages sent on February 15, 2021, about advice he was given in a six-hour meeting with lawyer Warwick Korn could be explained, Mr Richardson said.

While the former staffer said in his texts that criminal charges were “off the cards” and he would be “up for millions” in defamation damages, he was putting on a brave face for those he knew.

It was “implausible” Mr Korn would have actually given this advice as a criminal lawyer, the court heard.

Claims by Ten and News that Mr Lehrmann was a “habitual liar” should be rejected, Mr Richardson said.

“This is unfair to a human being who found himself in that situation.”

Ten’s barrister, Matthew Collins KC, argued Mr Lehrmann’s focus had been on defamation from the day he viewed the media reports, and he had compiled a list of friendly media outlets, PR representatives and a “hit list” of those he wanted to sue in the months after.

Accusing Mr Lehrmann of giving unreliable evidence, Dr Collins urged the court to look at the messages sent on February 15 as a better indicator of whether defamation action was considered at the time.

The messages showed he was told he had a “red hot defamation case” and that criminal prosecution was unlikely, Dr Collins said.

“Why on earth was he sitting on his hands for a year?” the barrister asked.

The hearing continues.


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