Journalist Lisa Wilkinson will rely on qualified privilege to defend herself in a defamation case brought by former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann.
- Bruce Lehrmann is suing Lisa Wilkinson and Channel Ten over an interview aired by The Project in 2021
- Ms Wilkinson’s defence says the airing of the interview should be protected under qualified privilege.
- Mr Lehrmann has maintained he is innocent
Mr Lehrmann is suing Ms Wilkinson and Channel Ten over an interview aired by The Project in February 2021, in which Brittany Higgins alleged she had been raped at Parliament House.
Mr Lehrmann was not named during the program.
But he has lodged defamation proceedings in the Federal Court claiming he could easily have been identified from the material.
Mr Lehrmann has consistently and repeatedly maintained he is innocent of the allegation.
His trial was abandoned because of juror misconduct, and a retrial was later set aside because of fears for Ms Higgins’s health.
As a consequence there have been no findings against him.
In his statement of claim Mr Lehrmann accused Ms Wilkinson of reckless indifference to the truth or falsity of the imputations he raped Ms Higgins, without giving him reasonable opportunity to respond.
Ms Wilkinson’s lawyers say in her defence that Mr Lehrmann was approached for comment three times before the interview was aired, but did not respond.
Ms Wilkinson also claims in her defence, that in his police interview Mr Lehrmann “falsely denied having sexual intercourse with Higgins”.
The defence seeks to claim Mr Lehrmann did rape Brittany Higgins, after the pair were out drinking at the Dock and a night club before returning to the office of Senator Linda Reynolds, where they worked.
The defence sets out a detailed account of the fact checking carried out, and the impetus to publish the material in a timely fashion.
“It was necessary that the matters be published expeditiously because the toxic environment in Parliament House towards women was a topic of significant public interest and concerned governmental and political matters,” the defence says.
Ms Wilkinson’s lawyers also point to the significance of the response, with then-prime minister Scott Morrison having to answer questions in parliament and set up an investigation into workplace culture.
Mr Morrison later apologised to Ms Higgins in parliament for “the terrible things that took place here”.
Ms Wilkinson’s defence says the airing of the interview was justified in the public interest, and should be protected under qualified privilege.
Mr Lehrmann is also suing News Life Media and journalist Samantha Maiden who broke the story earlier on the same day, with her own interview.
Ms Maiden has not filed a defence yet.