Wed. May 29th, 2024

Why Bruce Lehrmann Just Can’t Take No for an Answer: Unpacking His Loss in Defamation Case

Emily Hudson By Emily Hudson May22,2024
Key Points
  • A judge declared on Monday that Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins, bringing to end a long and heated legal saga.
  • Lehrmann had tried to sue Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over a TV segment on The Project.
  • The judge found Lehrmann had disregarded the matter of consent and was “hell-bent” on having sex with Higgins.
This article contains references to sexual assault.
Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson has failed, with a federal court judge finding that, on the balance of probabilities, .
The judgment comes after a protracted and heated legal battle that Lehrmann initiated, after prosecutors aborted the criminal trial against him for Higgins’ alleged rape.
Lehrmann has always denied the rape allegation.
Lehrmann sued Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation based on claims their story about the alleged rape of Higgins in a Parliament House office had identified him as the culprit — even though it did not include his name.
When handing down his verdict on Monday, Justice Michael Lee quipped that: “having escaped the lions’ den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat”.
He also described the defamation trial itself as an “omnishambles”, noting its “unexpected detours” and “collateral damage”.

Here are some of the main takeaways from Monday’s proceedings.

Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins

The most significant finding was that Lehrmann, on the balance of probabilities, raped Higgins in Parliament House in March 2019.
Lee stressed that his decision was based on the civil standard of proof, not the criminal standard, emphasising the “substantive difference” between the two.
“I have only to be reasonably satisfied that Mr Lehrmann has acted as I have found, and I am not obliged to reach that degree of certainty necessary to support conviction on a criminal charge,” Lee said.

In delivering his finding, Lee broke his assessment down into three key criteria: whether there was intercourse; whether there was consent; and whether Lehrmann believed there was consent.

Lee decided that intercourse took place between Higgins and Lehrmann. He added that although he was not reasonably satisfied Higgins repeatedly said “stop” while Lehrmann was on top of her, as Higgins previously claimed, he did believe she was most likely “passive” and, as Higgins had also previously claimed, “like a log”.
Lee therefore declared that there was not consent, nor the belief of consent from Lehrmann.
“Lehrmann was so indifferent to the rights of Higgins that he ignored the matter of consent,” he found. “He did not care one way or the other whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed to what was going on.”

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins,” Lee concluded.

Higgins was ‘seriously inebriated’ and Lehrmann ‘hell-bent’ on having sex

After reviewing all of the evidence available to him, Lee spent a significant portion of his verdict weighing up Higgins’ level of intoxication.

He found that by the time Higgins and Lehrmann had left the Dock bar in Canberra – one of several venues they visited before going to Parliament House – Higgins had consumed 11 drinks. Lehrmann observed her drinking six of those, Lee added.

Lee said he strongly suspects more alcohol was consumed after Higgins and Lehrmann arrived at Parliament House in the early hours of Saturday 23 March 2019, and said he was satisfied she was “seriously inebriated”.
CCTV footage from Parliament House showed Higgins walking through security, struggling to put her shoes on and then skipping to catch up to Lehrmann.
While Lee noted the footage showed she was not “paralytically drunk”, he said it was evident that she was heavily affected, and that Lehrmann was aware of her condition.

“In summary, I consider it more likely than not that in those early hours, after a long night of conviviality and drinking and having successfully brought Ms Higgins back to a secluded place, Mr Lehrmann was hell-bent on having sex with a woman he found attractive,” Lee said.

Two men walking outside a court

“Lehrmann was so indifferent to the rights of Higgins that he ignored the matter of consent,” Justice Michael Lee found. “He did not care one way or the other whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed to what was going on.” Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas

Both Lehrmann and Higgins’ accounts of the incident were rejected

While handing down his findings, Lee expressed serious concerns about the credit of both Lehrmann’s and Higgins’ evidence, and said he had decided to reject their accounts of the incident in question.
“Some witnesses may misremember or lie about some things and yet tell the truth about other things. Despite my concerns about the truthfulness of both Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins, it’s simplistic to proceed on the basis I must reject everything they say,” he said.
“To remark that Mr Lehrmann is a poor witness is an exercise in understatement,” Lee said. “His attachment to the truth is a tenuous one.”
“I would not accept anything he said except where it amounted to an admission,” he later added, noting that instances of Lehrmann’s “false out-of-court statements or unsatisfactory evidence are legion”.
Regarding Higgins, Lee noted that her credit must be assessed “circumspectly”.

“One must not only take account of the well-known general features of human memory, but also the mental state of Ms Higgins and the well-known specific effect of trauma and in particular sexual assault on her memory,” he said. He also added, however, that several issues in her account could not be discounted on this basis.

Lee distinguished between Lehrmann’s and Higgins’ factual errors, noting that Lehrmann’s untruths were “all over the shop” while Higgins’ were “more organised” and had “a common thread”.

Lehrmann was identified by The Project

The first finding Lee had to make was whether Lehrmann was identified in the segment on Network Ten’s current affairs program The Project, during which Wilkinson interviewed Higgins about her alleged rape.
Lehrmann’s lawsuit was based on the claim that, although he was not named in the segment, he was identifiable and therefore defamed.
Lee declared relatively early in Monday’s proceedings that he had “no doubt” Lehrmann was identified in The Project’s reporting.
Network Ten’s defence against the defamation lawsuit was partly based on the defence of truth: the idea that the defamatory imputations made by Ten and Wilkinson, in this case that Lehrmann raped Higgins, were substantially true.
Lee’s conclusion that Lehrmann did in fact rape Higgins thus quashed Lehrmann’s lawsuit, even though Lee acknowledged Network Ten’s segment identified Lehrmann.
Lee also criticised Network Ten’s reporting, however, stating that Wilkinson had a tendency to dismiss information which did not fit the narrative Higgins gave her, and that Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn did not properly investigate her claims.
He further described Wilkinson as having a “lack of candour in the witness box” about having done the wrong thing.
With additional reporting from the Australian Associated Press.
If this story has raised any issues for you, help is available at Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you or someone you know wants to talk about sexual assault or harassment, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.

Emily Hudson

By Emily Hudson

Emily is a talented author who has published several bestselling novels in the mystery genre. With a knack for creating gripping plotlines and intriguing characters, Emily's works have captivated readers worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “Why Bruce Lehrmann Just Can’t Take No for an Answer: Unpacking His Loss in Defamation Case”
  1. It’s appalling that Lehrmann’s relentless pursuit of Higgins, despite the lack of consent, has finally come to light. Justice has been served, and it’s time for him to face the consequences of his actions.

  2. It’s appalling how Lehrmann blatantly disregarded consent and was so insistent on forcing Higgins into a situation she did not want. Justice has finally been served in holding him accountable for his actions. Let this be a lesson to all – consent is non-negotiable.

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