19 April 2024

Could the Federal Court finding against Bruce Lehrmann lead to criminal legal action in the ACT?

| Claire Fenwicke
Bruce Lehrmann

Plenty of legal proceedings have followed the original charging of Bruce Lehrmann with sexual assault. But that charge has never been proven in a criminal court of law. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Questions are being raised about whether criminal charges against Bruce Lehrmann could once again be pursued in a Canberra court.

A Federal Court judge found on the balance of probabilities that he had raped Brittany Higgins in Parliament House on 23 March 2019.

But this was in a defamation matter, which is a civil proceeding, and has a much lower threshold for proof than a criminal court.

Mr Lehrmann has never been found guilty in a criminal court of law.

His ACT case was discontinued by former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shane Drumgold after juror misconduct resulted in a mistrial.

Mr Lehrmann is also accused of two counts of rape alleged to have occurred in Toowoomba in October 2021.

The matter is listed for a committal hearing to decide whether or not he’ll face a trial on the charges on 17 June.

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A spokesperson with the Justice and Community Safety (JACS) directorate said any decision to progress to criminal proceedings in this matter once again in the ACT lies with the DPP.

ACT Policing officers would not need to charge Mr Lehrmann again for the DPP to proceed.

“Under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1990 and the ACT Prosecution Policy, the Director of Public Prosecutions has discretion to consider a wide range of factors to determine whether to prosecute a case,” the JACS spokesperson said.

“The government takes allegations of sexual offences seriously and acknowledges the impact that sexual violence has on individuals, families and the community.

“We recognise the need for public confidence in the criminal justice system for sexual violence offences to be investigated and prosecuted appropriately. That is why the Government initiated the Board of Inquiry into the Criminal Justice System in the ACT.”

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If a case is brought, a potential hurdle for Mr Lehrmann to have a fair trial in Canberra is the amount of publicity this case has generated.

Finding an impartial jury could prove difficult.

There isn’t the option in ACT legislation for Mr Lehrmann to have a judge-alone trial either.

“Section 68B of the Supreme Court Act 1933 permits a trial to be heard by a judge alone other than for an excluded offence and subject to certain procedural steps,” the JACS spokesperson said.

“Excluded offences are listed in Schedule 2 and are offences involving the death of a person or sexual offences.”

The ACT Government has no plans at this time to introduce legislative amendments to this law.

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