Co-authored by: Isabel Strahan
- Brittany Higgins alleges that she was sexually assaulted by her co-worker Bruce Lehrmann in 2019 in a ministerial office.
- The charges were laid and the case proceeded to trial in 2022.
- The trial was abandoned at the deliberation stage after a juror was found to have documents of outside research.
- On December 2nd, 2022, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions made a public statement that the re-trial was to be abandoned in the interest of Ms Higgins health and wellbeing.
On March 22nd, 2019, Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins attended after-work drinks with their fellow co-workers at The Dock Bar in Canberra.
At approximately 1:40am on March 23rd, 2019, Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins arrived at Parliament House and told security that they were picking up some documents from Minister Linda Reynolds’ office. Mr Lehrmann is then found to have left Parliament House an hour later, without Ms Higgins.
The events of the night were reported to the Department of Parliamentary Services as a ‘security breach’ and Mr Lehrmann was called into a meeting with Chief of Staff, Ms Fiona Brown.
Ms Higgins is called to a meeting with Senator Reynolds in the same office where the alleged offence occurred.
Mr Lehrmann’s employment was terminated on April 5, 2019.
Ms Higgins was later told by Police that her allegations would not be investigated due to the current workplace demands of the upcoming election.
After resigning from her position as Adviser, Higgins contacted the Australian Federal Police to reopen her investigation after recording a media interview. She was later advised that taking part in the interview may jeopardise the investigation.
On September 16th, 2021, Lehrmann was charged with sexual intercourse without consent and plead not guilty.
On October 4, 2022, the trial finally started after months of dismissals and stays.
Ms Higgins was brutally cross-examined, and the jury heard from multiple witnesses including Senator Linda Reynolds who denies ever hearing of the rape allegations despite the Prosecution claiming that Senator Reynolds and Ms Higgins spoke about it on numerous occasions.
With the entire nation watching amidst the rise of the #MeToo movement, the jury begins deliberating on October 19th, 2022.
However, by October 27th, the jury is dismissed after it was discovered that a juror had obtained information from outside the Court. The information obtained related to research regarding the prevalence of false complaints of sexual assault. Information outside of the proceedings is not allowed in deliberation or within proceedings as it may bias and prejudice the judgement of jurors. Jurors must decide the case based only on the evidence admitted to the Court during the trial, in order to ensure the evidence has been tested, scrutinised and challenged.
The case was set for re-trial in February 2023.
Abandonment of The Re-Trial
On December 2nd, 2022, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions released a public statement that was addressed to the media regarding the re-trial.
He stated that the re-trial into the rape of Brittany Higgins is to be abandoned for the alleged victim’s health and wellbeing, as Ms Higgins is currently attending treatment for the trauma suffered.
Whilst Mr Lehrmann and his team have yet to comment on the abandonment, it means that the public will never know the truth and a judgement will not be handed down in Court regarding the criminal offence.
Future Options for Ms Higgins
Whilst Lehrmann has escaped criminal conviction, there is another avenue that Ms Higgins may choose to pursue under civil jurisdiction against her employer.
It is possible to pursue a claim in Personal Injury despite the criminal charges not being laid as the standard of proof changes from the criminal ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to the civil ‘on the balance of probabilities.’
Under the Victim’s Support Scheme, victims may seek a compensation claim for sexual assault. However, the statute of limitations period in ACT and NSW of 3 years must be noted. Therefore, the claim must be bought within three years of the offence occurring.
In civil jurisdiction, Ms Higgins may claim compensation payments for pain and suffering, treatment costs including psychology and medical treatments for the past and future, as well as a loss of income in the past and future. However, what is available to the Court as remedy is not confined to these options and may include higher compensation relating to any aggravated factors that may be present.
ABOUT LARA MENON:
Lara Menon joined the Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers team in August 2018, working within our Criminal and Family Law teams. Her swift advancement from Paralegal, Law Graduate, Lawyer, Senior Lawyer and most recently, Senior Associate in February 2022, is a testament to her astute legal skills and commitment to client service excellence.
Earlier in 2019, Lara was selected by the NSW Law Society to undertake an internship with the NSW Coroner’s Court, working as a Judge’s Associate for the Deputy State Coroner.
For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:
ABOUT ISABEL STRAHAN:
Isabel joined the Coutts team in January 2022, as a Paralegal working within our Family & Criminal teams. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in International Relations and Minoring in Cultural Studies at the University of Wollongong. It is her dedication and hardworking nature that will see her go far within Coutts.
For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:
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