The ABC has reached a settlement with Bruce Lehrmann after he sued the national broadcaster and Channel Ten for defamation.
Lehrmann sued the ABC for broadcasting a speech by Brittany Higgins and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame at the National Press Club.
Judge Michael Lee told the Federal Court on Wednesday – the day the civil trial was due to start – “a settlement has been reached between the applicant and the ABC”.
Mr. Lehrmann’s case against Channel 10 is scheduled to begin today. Former host Lisa Wilkinson was present in the courtroom.
The second case Judge Lee heard Wednesday morning was Channel Ten’s motion to compel journalists and members of the public to seek access to a live court broadcast of the case.
It rejected the request and said live coverage was necessary in the interests of an open justice system.
Referring to the argument in Ten’s application against the live broadcast, the judge told the court: “The prevailing view is that embarrassment and stress alone should be a factor, but that is simply not the law.”
“I am not convinced that citizens should only be able to access live streaming by filling out some application.”
Brittany Higgins and fiancé David Sharaz will be seen in Sydney on Tuesday
The defamation case stems from a February 2021 interview with The Project, when Ms Higgins alleged in an interview with Wilkinson that Mr Lehrmann had raped her in Parliament in 2019.
Although his name was not released, he claims that friends and former colleagues were able to identify him as the alleged rapist.
He maintained his innocence all along.
In his lawsuit, Lehrmann states that Ten “recklessly indifferently accepted the truth or falsity” of the allegations without giving him the opportunity to respond.
However, it could turn into an alleged rape trial, with Wilkinson and Channel 10 trying to prove that Ms Higgins’ rape allegations are “largely true”.
To win the case, they will have to prove on a balance of probabilities that rape occurred, which means Judge Lee will have to determine whether rape is more likely to occur or not.
This is different from a criminal trial, where the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged incident occurred.
Wilkinson hired Sue Chrysanthou SC, a leading defamation lawyer, to represent her, rather than using lawyers provided to her by Channel 10.
In addition to defending the truth, Ten will maintain that Mr. Lehrmann was not identified during the broadcast and that reasonable efforts were made to contact him before the broadcast.
Wilkinson’s team will argue that Ms Higgins’ allegations were in the public interest and appropriate to report them, and that she placed faith in the producers of The Project to ensure the program was accurate reporting.
Lehrmann’s team plans to interview Ms Higgins, Wilkinson and Network 10 producer Angus Llewellyn.
Lehrmann was tried in the ACT Supreme Court in October last year, but the trial was quashed when a member of the jury brought prohibited research material into court.
Then on December 2, Shane Drumgold, former ACT director of public prosecutions, dropped the sexual assault charge due to concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental state.
The next day and after one day of mediation won a damages lawsuit against the Commonwealth worth up to $3 million and covering loss of wages over 40 years, even though her allegations are unproven.