Bruce Lehrmann defamation case to reopen after 11th-hour bid from Network Ten to present more evidence

Tim Clarke
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Network Ten has won a bid to reopen its defamation lawsuit with Bruce Lehrmann. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)
Network Ten has won a bid to reopen its defamation lawsuit with Bruce Lehrmann. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

The defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann after he was accused by Brittany Higgins of rape will be sensationally reopened, and this week’s scheduled judgment be pushed back.

Following an 11th-hour application by the Ten Network to adduce new evidence — brought to try and show Mr Lehrmann abused the court process by leaking confidential material — Justice Michael Lee said he would lengthen the extraordinary legal saga further.

And he also injected more intrigue into the already sensational trial, by saying new witness Taylor Auerbach would have to front court to be grilled on Thursday — and ordered the Seven Network to answer subpoenas asking them some awkward questions.

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Ten’s Barrister Matt Collins argued that the proposed new evidence should be allowed into the trial, which would allege that Mr Lehrmann sent an “e-brief” of evidence to the Seven Network ahead of an exclusive interview last year.

They say that breached a promise made to the court that the material could and should only be used in that criminal case — and was designed to put pressure on Ms Higgins and others ahead of his defamation trial.

That material included thousands of pages of texts between Ms Higgins and her former boyfriend, as well as audio of a hotel meeting between Ms Higgins and her interviewer Lisa Wilkinson and CCTV from Parliament House.

“Mr Lehrmann’s credit is central,” Dr Collins said.

“He told a series of falsehoods to a national audience on Spotlight. And he (provided) 2,300-odd pages of the most intimate, private messages between (Ms Higgins) and a former boyfriend.

“No doubt in the hope that they would be broadcast and disseminated to her embarrassment ... it is the definition of an abuse of process. An outrageous contempt of court.”

They said the issue went not only to Mr Lehrmann’s credit, but also to what damages Mr Lehrmann might receive.

You can watch the hearing live here.

And in another revelation, lawyers for Ms Wilkinson revealed some of the new evidence it is hoped to introduce, from former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach.

He is said to have sworn that not only was Seven paying for one apartment for Mr Lehrmann, but they rented another in his name — and let Mr Lehrmann live there as well.

That was said to total about $12,000.

Barrister Sue Chrysanthou hinted that was astonishingly proved by a reflection in a photograph taken of a laptop. And there were also mentions of meals including scallops, and a tomahawk steak.

A Seven Network spokesperson said the claims in the affidavits were being presented unchallenged.

“We strongly reject the false and misleading claims relating to the broadcast of material in the Spotlight program,” the spokesperson said.

“Seven has never revealed its source or sources and has no intention of doing so. Seven notes Mr Lehrmann’s court testimony last year that he was not the source.

“Furthermore, Seven did not condone or authorise the alleged payments to Mr Lehrmann referred to in the affidavits. As has been previously reported, the person involved admitted to the misuse of a Seven corporate card and all unauthorised expenses were immediately reimbursed.

“Seven notes that these proceedings remain before the court.”

Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Matthew Richardson poured scorn on the relevance of Mr Auerbach’s evidence, saying he had been “dancing in the sunlight” for the past two weeks.

“It’s really a lipstick on a pig in one way or another,” Mr Richardson said.

“This stuff is trivial, it is not relevant.”

And he also objected to a suggestion to Justice Michael Lee that Mr Auerbach could be called to give evidence on Wednesday, with mention made of him flying back from New Zealand ahead of that possibility.

“We won’t have the proper opportunity to test this witness, we just won’t,” he said.

That argument was rejected by Justice Lee.

“I think the delay ... will be relatively minimal in the scheme of things. Although it would mean that I’ve been able I will be unable to deliver a judgement until at least next week,” he said.

On Easter Sunday, Network Ten applied for leave to reopen its defence in light of “fresh evidence,” according to the interlocutory application filed with the court.

The nature of the fresh evidence has not been fully confirmed, but the application follows a series of reports surrounding the Seven Network’s exclusive interview with Mr Lehrmann for its Spotlight program.

News.com.au broke the story on March 21 that “two Thai masseuses were booked – one for Mr Lehrmann and another for a Seven employee” in the early hours of November 26, 2022.

It prompted Mr Lehrmann to issue a statement, describing the allegation as “an untrue and bizarre story from a disgruntled ex-Network Seven producer”.

A former producer on Spotlight, Mr Auerbach, threatened to sue Mr Lehrmann over the statement – sending a concerns notice, the first step in initiating defamation proceedings, on Wednesday.

In the notice, Mr Auerbach’s solicitor said Mr Lehrmann’s statement had conveyed a defamatory imputation that “Taylor Auerbach lied to the press about Bruce Lehrmann being bought a massage by a Seven Network employee”.

On Monday, News.com.au reported a sworn affidavit prepared by Mr Auerbach that alleges Mr Lehrmann was the source of the leaks of Brittany Higgins’ private texts to the program would be presented to the court.

Mr Lehrmann has previously denied providing documents or photographs to the program.

The Federal Court previously heard Seven agreed to cover Mr Lehrmann’s rent for a year as part of the deal.

Mr Lehrmann is suing Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over an interview with Ms Higgins which aired on The Project in February 2021.

During the broadcast, Ms Higgins alleged she was sexually assaulted by her former colleague inside Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in Parliament House after a night out drinking in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

Mr Lehrmann has maintained he did not have sexual intercourse with Ms Higgins after they travelled together back to Parliament House.

He claims he was defamed by the broadcast, despite it not naming him.

Mr Lehrmann stood trial in the ACT Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to sexually assaulting Ms Higgins, but the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.

The charges were subsequently dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions due to concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health before Mr Lehrmann sued Network 10 and Ms Wilkinson in the Federal Court.

Seven West Media is publisher of The Nightly.

With wires.

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Justice Lee finds Lehrmann ‘hell-bent on having sex’ with Higgins and ‘didn’t care if she knew what was going on’