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Julia Bergin

Bruce Lehrmann launches defamation lawsuits against Network Ten and News Corp

Former federal Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has filed legal proceedings against Network Ten and News Life Media, the publisher of and part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire for defamation over coverage of rape allegations made against him by his former colleague Brittany Higgins.

Lehrmann’s lawyers from Mark O’Brien Legal lodged statements of claim to the Federal Court online registry on Tuesday afternoon. The development follows legal correspondence from his lawyers with both media organisations (plus the ABC) last December threatening defamation action. 

The Federal Court is yet to release the documents, but Lehrmann is expected to seek damages and aggravated damages for media reporting in February 2021 regarding Higgins’ allegations against him.

The Australian reported today that Network Ten presenter Lisa Wilkinson and political editor Samantha Maiden are understood to be listed as second respondents. The national broadsheet reported that the statement of claim alleges Wilkinson and Network Ten were “recklessly indifferent to the truth or falsity” when they reported Higgins’ allegations.

Both The Project and published Higgins’ claims that she was sexually assaulted by an unnamed staffer in the ministerial office of Linda Reynolds — former boss of both Higgins and Lehrmann — at Parliament House in March 2019.

The statement of claim reportedly cites evidence from the aborted trial that Maiden and Wilkinson went head to head for exclusive publication of Higgins’ allegations. Lehrmann has previously accused Wilkinson of exploiting charges levelled against him to pursue a personal and professional agenda.

Last October, Lehrmann faced trial in the ACT Supreme Court for a single charge of sexual intercourse without consent, but the case collapsed and the charges subsequently dropped due to juror misconduct. Prosecutors aborted a retrial because of concerns for Higgins’ mental health and well-being.

Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence.

Neither media corporation has filed any documents in reply, and no court date has been set.

In response to Lehrmann’s statement of claim, Higgins chimed in on Twitter on Wednesday morning, retweeting her own December 2022 tweet in which she offered to stand as a witness “if required” in any potential civil cases brought about by Lehrmann.

“A timely reminder,” she added to the retweet.

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