16 April 2024

'He did not care one way or another': Federal Court judge finds Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins

| Claire Fenwicke

Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann, pictured separately during the criminal trial. Photos: Albert McKnight.

A Federal Court judge has found it was likely Brittany Higgins was raped when at Parliament House in 2019.

Justice Michael Lee said that while both Ms Higgins and her alleged attacker, Bruce Lehrmann, were unreliable witnesses, he found it was reasonable that sex must have occurred and that Ms Higgins would have been “a very drunk 24-year-old woman” at the time.

Unlike a criminal trial, which needs a finding beyond reasonable doubt, a defamation trial only needs to be reasonably satisfied on a balance of probabilities.

Justice Lee said while he couldn’t make decisions about some elements of what happened in Senator Linda Reynolds’ ministerial suite on 23 March 2019, he could be certain of others.

“[I am] convinced sexual intercourse did take place,” he said.

“[Ms Higgins’] evidence that she was not aware of her surroundings [but became aware of Mr Lehrmann on top of her] … struck me forcibly as being credible [and had a] ring of truth.”

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Justice Lee said it was “wrongheaded” to think any sexual assault victims would fight back or resist.

Whether Mr Lehrmann was “indifferent” to consent, he was satisfied it was “more likely than not” that Mr Lehrmann was so “intent upon gratification” that he engaged in sexual intercourse with Ms Higgins “without caring” if she consented.

“More likely than not … [he was] hellbent on having sex with a woman he had found attractive,” Justice Lee said.

“He did not care one way or another [if she knew] what was going on.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins.”

Mr Lehrmann had sued Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over the airing of Ms Higgins’ allegations in an episode of The Project.

A criminal trial into the allegations in the ACT ended in a mistrial, and Mr Lehrmann has maintained his innocence.

More to come.

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