Bruce Lehrmann is a dishonest, evasive man whose frequent lies about his alleged rape of Brittany Higgins mean his entire account on what happened should be disbelieved, a court has heard.
Lawyers for Network Ten have rejected Lehrmann’s claims that nothing sexual happened between himself and Higgins at Parliament House in Senator Linda Reynolds’ office on March 2019.
Giving closing submissions in a defamation case brought by Lehrmann, Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins KC said the former Liberal staffer was evasive and defensive when giving evidence.
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He had made “bizarre” and “absurd” lies about what he claimed happened, the barrister told Justice Michael Lee.
“Mr Lehrmann was revealed to be a fundamentally dishonest man who was prepared to say or do anything he perceived to advance his interests,” Collins said.
Lehrmann denies the rape and is suing Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over a February 2021 report on The Project featuring an interview with Higgins.
Bruce Lehrmann outside court. Credit: AAP
On Thursday, Collins said Lehrmann was not identifiable due to the report except for among a small group of individuals who already knew of an alleged incident in Parliament House almost two years earlier.
Even if Lehrmann succeeded in his defamation case, any damages he received would be limited as a result, Collins said.
The barrister urged Justice Lee to find that sexual intercourse, whether consensual or non-consensual, occurred that night given Higgins was later seen by a security guard naked and passed out on the minister’s couch.
“They weren’t there to play Scrabble,” Collins said.
“There’s a limited universe of things that plausibly happened.”
If the judge found consensual sex had occurred, it was “game over” for Lehrmann who continually denied anything happened and who therefore brought his defamation case and defended his criminal trial on a false basis, the barrister argued.
Collins said Higgins, on the other hand, had given consistent, raw and often emotionally charged evidence about the rape allegation.
Brittany Higgins. Credit: AAP
She also made appropriate admissions about mistakes in her prior versions of events, he said.
‘(Her evidence) was compelling and it was distressing and in our submission it was believable.”
The judge was required to decide whether the core allegation of rape occurred, Collins said.
Lehrmann’s claims Higgins also lied about the pressure she felt to keep her job were far removed from the rape allegations detailed in the broadcast, he added.
As well as arguing that the rape occurred, Ten is also running a justification defence in which it has to prove that it was reasonable in publishing an article of public interest.
Lee might have to grapple with what, if any, damages Lehrmann receives if the rape claim is shown to be true, but Higgins’ claims about the actions of others in Parliament House are found to be false.
Lehrmann’s trial in the ACT Supreme Court on a charge of raping Higgins was derailed by juror misconduct.
Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Higgins’ mental health.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.