Bruce Lehrmann ordered to pay costs over failed defamation action against Network 10, Lisa Wilkinson

Emily Moulton
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Bruce Lehrmann has been ordered to pay the legal costs of Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.
Bruce Lehrmann has been ordered to pay the legal costs of Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson. Credit: Don Arnold/Getty Images

Bruce Lehrmann has been ordered to pay costs relating to his failed defamation actions against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson but exactly how much has yet to be determined.

In his decision, Federal Court Justice Michael Lee said there were “no real winners”.

But he ruled in favour of the broadcaster and journalist characterising the result as “the respondents overcoming a misconceived claim in relation to a broadcast because they were able to prove at trial the substantial truth” of Brittany Higgins’ claim that she was raped by Mr Lehrmann.

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Justice Lee found Mr Lehrmann should pay most of Ten’s costs on an indemnity basis – covering about 90 per cent of its legal bill – in relation to its truth defence, and on an ordinary or party-party basis – about 70 per cent of its legal bill – in relation to the qualified privilege defence.

But as to how much would be left to a “referee” with the outline to be battled out at another hearing on May 27.

Mr Lehrmann launched legal action against Ten and Ms Wilkinson over an interview with Brittany Higgins on The Project, in which she alleged he raped her at Parliament House, although she did not name him.

The lawsuit was lodged after his 2022 criminal trial for rape was abandoned following juror misconduct.

A subsequent defamation trial was held, with Justice Lee finding that while he was defamed, Ten had proved its truth defence, and he was satisfied by the civil standard Mr Lehrmann did attack Ms Higgins in the office of Senator Linda Reynolds.

In ordering Mr Lehrmann pay Ten and Ms Wilkinson’s costs, Justice Lee also chastised the broadcaster for advancing “an assertion that they won the litigation” in the aftermath of the judgment.

He said while he had determined Ten had “legally justified their imputation of rape, their conduct was not justifiable in any broader sense”.

“The credulous approach taken as to the allegations pitched by Mr (David) Sharaz – and as to Ms Higgins’ credit generally – lacked both rigour and objectivity,” Justice Lee said. “None of this can be separated from the approach taken to the publication of the imputation of rape on the material then in the possession of the respondents. Contrary to the recent assertions of Network Ten, a publication is not reasonable simply because it turns out to be true in some respects.”

Justice Lee also criticised the former political staffer running a case on the “fanciful and knowingly false premise that in the early hours of 23 March 2019, he was preoccupied with noting up details as to French submarine contracts” when he was instead raping Ms Higgins.

He also accepted Mr Lehrmann “engaged in an abuse of the court’s processes”.

“Mr Lehrmann defended the criminal charge on a false basis lied to police and then allowed that lie to go uncorrected before the jury,” he said.

“He wrongly instructed his senior counsel to cross-examine a complainant of sexual assault in two legal proceedings, including relevantly for present purposes in this case, on a knowingly false premise.”

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