Home » Former Australian government adviser raped colleague in parliament, judge finds

Former Australian government adviser raped colleague in parliament, judge finds

A former government adviser raped a colleague inside a ministerial office, a judge has ruled in a defamation case in Australia.

Bruce Lehrmann was accused of raping Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in Canberra in March 2019, after they had both been out drinking and clubbing with colleagues.

A criminal trial over the claim collapsed in 2022 after a juror was found conducting individual research into the case, and a proposed retrial was abandoned after prosecutors feared it would severely harm Ms Higgins’ mental health.

However, Mr Lehrmann filed a defamation claim against Australian media company Network Ten over an interview in 2021 with his accuser Ms Higgins, who waived her right to anonymity during the initial criminal trial.

On Monday, Justice Michael Lee of Australia’s Federal Court dismissed Mr Lehrmann’s defamation claim, finding he had raped Ms Higgins and told “deliberate lies”.

In an Australian civil trial, the standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities, while a criminal trial requires evidence beyond all reasonable doubt.

Justice Lee said in his ruling: “I am satisfied that 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 and hence went ahead with sexual intercourse without caring whether she consented.”

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The Network Ten interview with Ms Higgins did not name Mr Lehrmann, but the judge found he had been identified based on other details provided on the programme.

“Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat,” the judge said in his judgment, referring to the claimant’s decision to file the defamation case following the collapse of the criminal trial.

The judge added a ruling on legal costs, estimated to be millions of dollars, will be made later this month.

“This judgment is a triumph for truth,” a spokesperson for Network Ten said in a statement.

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Mr Lehrmann – who has always denied any wrongdoing – made no comment to reporters as he left the court.

In the criminal trial he pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent and denied that any sexual activity occurred.