Bruce Lehrmann departs the Federal Court
Bruce Lehrmann "went ahead with sexual intercourse without caring", a judge said. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Lehrmann faces crippling legal costs after rape finding

Duncan Murray April 16, 2024

A judge’s finding Bruce Lehrmann likely raped Brittany Higgins has been labelled an “unmitigated disaster” for the former Liberal staffer. 

Network Ten’s lawyers called the result “vindication” for the company and its belief and support for Ms Higgins during Lehrmann’s long-running defamation case.

“It’s an unmitigated disaster for Bruce Lehrmann,” Ten’s lawyer Justin Quill said.

The parties have been instructed to apply for costs by Monday, with Mr Quill saying he is confident Ten will recoup at least some of its legal fees.

Channel Ten lawyer Justin Quill speaks to the media
 Justin Quill said the judgment served as a warning to those looking to sue. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

He said the result was a warning for other prospective plaintiffs looking to “make a quick buck”.

“You can come up with a con that might get you through a TV interview, or an interview with your bosses, or down at the pub with your mates,” he said. 

“But when you come to the court, and you are cross-examined, and forensically examined, you can’t get away with it.”

Mr Quill was asked what Lehrmann should do next and he suggested “go get another degree”.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee ruled against Lerhmann in his marathon defamation suit against the network and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for airing the allegations, finding on the balance of probabilities a sexual assault took place on a couch in Parliament House in 2019.

“It is more likely than not that Mr Lehrmann’s state of mind was such that he was so intent upon gratification to be indifferent to Ms Higgins’ consent,” Justice Lee said in delivering his judgment on Monday,

“And hence (he) went ahead with sexual intercourse without caring.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins.”

Sue Chrysanthou KC (left), and Lisa Wilkinson depart the Federal Court
 Lisa Wilkinson (centre) said she hopes the judgment gives strength to women around the country. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Requiring a lower threshold for proof than a criminal trial, the civil ruling does not mean Lehrmann has been convicted of any offence.

According to Mr Quill, Lehrmann’s legal team did not expect Ms Higgins to appear as a witness in the defamation case and give evidence about the the alleged assault.

“Channel Ten couldn’t have defended this case without Brittany,” he said.

Before the alleged assault, the two staffers were seen kissing and touching during after-work drinks in Canberra.

They later returned to parliament, where Justice Lee said they ended up on the couch in the office of their then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds.

Lehrmann’s account that he was returning to Parliament House to retrieve a set of keys, and never intended to have sex with Ms Higgins, were among numerous lies he told the court, Justice Lee determined.

“He was a 23-year-old male cheating on his girlfriend, having just ‘hooked up’ with a woman he found sexually attractive,” Justice Lee said. 

“Human experience suggests what he then wanted to happen is not exactly shrouded in mystery.”

Ms Wilkinson said she hopes the judgment gives strength to women around the country.

“All the generous members of the public who have approached me almost every single day to express, often through tears, their unwavering support,” she said.

Lehrmann made no comment to media as he left the court.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028