Former Australian gov’t staffer raped colleague in Parliament, judge finds

A former government staffer in Australia raped a colleague in the country’s Parliament, a judge has found, rejecting his defamation claim against a broadcaster that aired his accuser’s allegations.

Justice Michael Lee ruled that Bruce Lehrmann, an adviser to the previous conservative government, was not defamed in the television interview with Brittany Higgins and that he had raped her in a minister’s office in 2019.

Lee made his finding on the balance of probabilities, a lower standard than that used in criminal trials to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lee said it was “more likely than not” that the former government staffer was “hellbent” on having sex with a woman he found attractive and knew to be inebriated.

“In his pursuit of gratification he did not care one way or another whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed,” Lee said.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins,” the judge said.

“I hasten to stress this is a finding on the balance of probabilities.”

Lee also criticised Network 10 for airing the allegations against Lehrmann, finding that doing so “fell short of the standard of reasonableness”, and said Higgins had been a “complex, and in several respects, unsatisfactory witness”.

 

Lehrmann did not make any comment to the assembled media scrum as he left the court.

Lehrmann, who has always maintained his innocence, sued Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over the 2021 interview with Higgins that did not identify him by name.

Lehrmann went on trial for the alleged rape in 2022, but the proceedings collapsed without any findings against him after a juror was found to have carried out research into the case in violation of court rules.

Prosecutors abandoned a proposed retrial after determining it would severely harm Higgins’s mental health.

Higgins’s allegations convulsed Australia’s political landscape when they were first made public in 2021, prompting a flurry of discussion about sexual violence and the treatment of women in politics.

<<Aljazeera>>