Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has fronted a Toowoomba court.
Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has faced a Toowoomba court on rape charges. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Lehrmann’s new rape charge hearing closed to media

Rex Martinich June 17, 2024

A major part of a committal hearing for rape charges against former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann will be heard in closed court.

Lehrmann attended a Queensland magistrates court on Monday for the first time since being charged with rape more than a year ago.

The hearing at Toowoomba Magistrates Court will determine if the matter will go to trial.

Magistrate Mark Howden denied an application for journalists to remain in the courtroom while the alleged victim gave evidence.

Mr Howden said granting the application would be prejudicial against Lehrmann.

“I acknowledge the public interest however … the matter ought to proceed in the ordinary way,” he said. 

Lehrmann was mobbed by media on his way to court.

“Where is Peter Costello when you need him?” he said, apparently in reference to the former Nine Entertainment chairman allegedly pushing over a journalist.

Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann
 A large media contingent is covering Bruce Lehrmann’s court appearance. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS 

Lehrmann, 29, was first charged in January 2023 and has been on bail since.

He took a seat beside his barrister Andrew Hoare with several documents and a leather-bound notebook.

Mr Hoare said he intended to question the alleged victim.

The small courtroom was packed with media and a sketch artist.

Lehrmann faces two counts of raping a woman at Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, in October 2021, which his lawyers have said he denies.

Crown prosecutor Nicole Friedewald handed up a list of exhibits and witnesses including a police detective and multiple officers.

Mr Hoare said he would provide a 12-page written submission from Lehrmann to prosecutors.

Barrister for News Corp, the ABC and Nine Network, Jess Goldie, applied for journalists to remain in the courtroom on Monday while the alleged victim testified remotely.

Ms Goldie said the high public interest in the case justified media remaining in court for that portion of the hearing to ensure fair and accurate reporting.

It was opposed by Mr Hoare, the crown prosecutor and the alleged victim.

Mr Howden denied the application and ordered the courtroom’s public gallery be cleared.

The Toowoomba Courthouse (file image)
 Media and the public were cleared out of the Toowoomba courtroom. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

Defence lawyers had mounted a weeks-long legal effort to maintain Lehrmann’s anonymity after Queensland changed its laws in October 2023 to no longer ban the publication of the names of people charged with certain sex offences prior to facing trial.

Lehrmann was able to be identified after being denied an ongoing non-publication of his name by the Queensland Supreme Court.

He was the subject of national media attention after being charged with the rape of Brittany Higgins in the office of then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds at Parliament House in March 2019, while both were employed by the senator.

Lehrmann denied those allegations and the case ended in a mistrial with prosecutors withdrawing the charge and declining to proceed with a new trial out of concern for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann in November 2023 started defamation proceedings against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over claims The Project program had identified him as the person who raped Ms Higgins in Parliament House in 2019.

Justice Michael Lee in April 2024 found to the civil standard that Lehrmann did, on the balance of probabilities, rape Ms Higgins and dismissed his lawsuit.

Lehrmann filed an appeal against Justice Lee’s trial judgment in May 2024.

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