Bruce Lehrmann loses defamation case against Network 10, Lisa Wilkinson

"Having escaped the lion's den, Bruce Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat," says judge in dismissing high-profile defamation case.

The Federal Court of Australia has dismissed a defamation case instigated by Bruce Lehrmann against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson.

In his lengthy findings, Justice Lee concluded incidents in a parliamentary suite in 2019 between Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins were sufficient for sexual intercourse to have taken place, in a state of intoxication, without consent.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Miss Higgins,” he concluded in what is a civil, not criminal, trial.

But Lee’s decision does not amount to a finding of criminal guilt.

“I hasten to add these findings are on the balance of probabilities. These findings should not be misconstrued or mischaracterised.”

Today Lee referred to unreliable witnesses and found Lehrmann’s account around what took place was false and “fanciful.”

Lehrmann was described as a “poor” witness while Higgins was an “unsatisfactory” witness.

Lee was satisfied that 10 and Wilkinson had proven to the civil standard – on the balance of probabilities and dismissed the case.

“In summary, I consider it more likely than not in those early hours, after a long night of conviviality and drinking and having successfully brought Ms Higgins back to a secluded place, Mr Lehrmann was hellbent on having sex with a woman he found attractive,” said Lee.

“Having escaped the lion’s den, Bruce Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat,” he said Justice Lee, referring to the abandonment of Lehrmann’s rape trial, due to juror misconduct.

In his findings the judge said Lehrmann was “no doubt identified” by The Project story. He found The Project did not do enough to seek a response from Bruce Lehrmann before broadcast.

“(Producer Angus) Llewellyn, like Ms Wilkinson, started from the premise that what Ms Higgins said about her allegations was necessarily true,” he said.

“Defamatory imputations of rape fell short of the standard of reasonableness.”

Justice Lee stated that while Lehrmann was not a compulsive liar he had told falsehoods and been mendacious in testimony. He determined Lehrmann had “no compunction in departing from the truth” if it was beneficial. His untruths were “all over the shop.”

Brittany Higgins was found to be complex and there was some unreliability and concerns around credibility, some of which he attributed to memory and trauma. There were differences in credibility in testimony around separate years which the court needed to assess separately.

Lisa Wilkinson was a “polished an articulate witness” who was let down by her legal counsel, in seeking advice prior to giving her Logies award speech, but as an experienced journalist she ought to have known the speech was frought with danger. The judge determined she had become inextricably entwined with Ms. Higgins as a woman whose “story must be believed.” But he was more critical of 10’s legal counsel which had advised her.

Former Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach was determined as “laying allegations on thick” after being resentful of Seven and his colleagues. But he concluded Lehrmann had been “less than candid” about the benefits he received while the Seven Network was negotiating an interview with him. Separately, today Seven has confirmed Mark Llewellyn is no longer employed at Seven.

At the top of his findings, Justice Lee also referred to the trial as an “omnishambles” for its fallout. Not long after that the courtroom audio fell silent and the court had to be adjourned for around 30 minutes.


Justice Lee has asked both parties to file submissions as to costs by April 22.

Outside court Lisa Wilkinson said:

“I sincerely hope that this judgement gives strength to women around the country.

“I am also so grateful to have had the benefit of my independent legal team led by Sue Chrysanthou whose expertise and wise counsel have been a source of ongoing strength to me for the last 14 months. Thank you.

“Throughout every step of this process, I have been surrounded by the love of my wonderful family as well as incredibly supportive friends and colleagues. I can never thank them enough.

“I also want to say how grateful I am to all the generous members of the public who have approached me almost every single day to express, often through tears, their unwavering support. Thanks very much.”

Network 10 statement:

“At its core this case was first and foremost about truth and Justice Lee has found that Network 10 prevailed in proving that Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape were true.

“This judgment is a triumph for truth.

“Justice Lee’s judgment is vindication for the courageous Brittany Higgins who gave a voice to women across the nation.

“Network 10 is considering Justice Lee’s 324-page judgment. It is clear however that Australia’s defamation laws remain highly restrictive.

“When put to the test, it was always our obligation to inform the public of these important social and political matters notwithstanding the challenges presented by these laws and today’s judgment vindicates the telling of Brittany’s story.

“Network 10 remains firmly committed to honest, fair and independent journalism; to holding those in power to account; to giving people a voice who wouldn’t otherwise have one; and to always pursuing without fear or favour, journalism that is firmly in the public interest.”

Source: ABC.

This post updates.