Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation lawsuits against Lisa Wilkinson, Channel 10, news.com.au and the ABC continue, a court has heard.
Judge Michael Lee ruled in Federal Court on Friday that it was reasonable for Mr Lehrmann to bring legal action against the media giants outside the usual 12-month timeframe.
He claimed he was too ill and too involved in criminal proceedings to file a libel lawsuit immediately after the news outlets aired Brittany Higgins’ allegations that he raped her.
Mr. Lehrmann has consistently denied having had any sexual interaction with Ms. Higgins, and last year pleaded not guilty in a criminal trial before the ACT Supreme Court. The case fell in November and the charges were subsequently dropped.
In his ruling on Friday, Judge Lee gave five reasons why the former political operative can sue the media outside of the statute of limitations.
He said Mr Lehrmann was “in the unusual position of directing his energies and resources to following advice to maximize his chances of avoiding and then succeeding in one of the most high-profile and commented on prosecutions in recent history.” to defend’.
“Once the state of satisfaction had been reached, it was not reasonable to initiate defamation proceedings, it was necessary to decide at our own discretion how long to extend the statute of limitations.
Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation lawsuit (center picture, out of court) against Channel 10, Lisa Wilkinson, news.com.au and the ABC continue
Mr Lehrmann filed libel lawsuits in February against Wilkinson, Channel 10, the digital website news.com.au and journalist Samantha Maiden over a TV interview and online article in which Brittany Higgins alleged she had been raped in 2019 in Parliamenthouse.
He was not named in either article, published on February 15, 2021, but claims that several people close to him were able to identify him as the alleged rapist.
In April, the former political aide also launched a defamation suit against the ABC over the broadcast of the National Press Club speech in February 2022 in which Ms. Higgins made the same allegations.
The video was subsequently posted to ABC’s YouTube channel and had garnered 127,000 views by the time Mr. Lehrmann’s claim was filed.
Mr Lehrmann was not named in the address but claims he was identifiable because his name and photo made national headlines when he was charged with sexual assault over Ms Higgins’ allegations in August 2021 – six months before the press club speech.
An interim hearing was held to determine whether the 12-month statute of limitations during which an applicant may sue for defamation should be extended. Mr. Lehrmann filed the cases two years after publication.
Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, Matthew Richardson SC, argued that it was unreasonable for his client to bring a defamation suit within the 12-month limit because he was unsure whether he would become the subject of a police investigation.
But lawyers from news.com.au, Channel 10 and Wilkinson argued the opposite.
They claimed there was ample time to launch a defamation case after the stories aired in February 2021 and when Mr Lehrmannn was charged with assault in August that year.
Mr. Lehrmann was first called to the witness stand on the first day of the hearing, in March.
He described his “outrage” when he first watched The Project presenter Lisa Wilkinson’s interview in the chambers of his lawyer Warwick Korn on February 15, 2021.
The viewing came after a six-hour meeting in Mr Korn’s office to explain the article published earlier that day on news.com.au.
While not mentioned in the Wilkinson interview with Higgins (couple pictured above), Mr. Lehrmann indicated that his identity would have been known in political circles
Mr Korn had to testify about that meeting and a series of texts Mr Lehrmann sent on the day Mrs Higgins made her rape allegations.
Judge Michael Lee also closed a request from Wilkinson’s attorney Sue Chrysanthou to access 39,823 pages of Bruce Lehrmann’s phone records, dating back to 2017.
He described it as a “fishing expedition” with “no obvious relevance” when reading his reasons for rejecting the application.
The phone records were obtained by the Australian Federal Police during an investigation into Brittany Higgins’ allegations that he raped her in Parliament House in 2019. Mr Lehrmann has always denied the allegations.
The phone data includes not only his messages, but also apps he opened, the pages he visited, GPS tracking, call logs, images searched, to website cookies stored on his phone.
“This is not some kind of wandering investigation into everything Mr. Lehrmann thought or said,” Judge Lee said.
It was also revealed that Mr. Lehrmann texted a friend saying “I’m not going to jail” the night Ms. Higgins accused a “male colleague” of rape.