Lehrmann given extra time to consider defamation appeal

Duncan Murray |

Bruce Lehrmann could be ordered to pay millions in costs over his failed defamation lawsuit.
Bruce Lehrmann could be ordered to pay millions in costs over his failed defamation lawsuit.

Bruce Lehrmann will likely have to pay at least some of Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson’s legal costs, as the former Liberal staffer weighs whether to appeal his unsuccessful defamation suit against them.

Lehrmann’s barrister David Helvadjian has requested further time in which an appeal notice must be delivered, on the basis fresh legal counsel were reviewing the likelihood of such an appeal succeeding.

Justice Michael Lee on Wednesday granted the motion, which was uncontested by the opposing parties, giving Lehrmann until May 31. 

Lisa Wilkinson (centre, file image)
Lisa Wilkinson went further in repeating an allegation of a systemic cover-up, a judge said. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

During the Federal Court hearing, Justice Lee reiterated his view the proceedings initiated by Lehrmann, over allegations aired by Ten that he raped Brittany Higgins in Parliament House, were unfounded.

The 28-year-old lost the case after Justice Lee found, on the balance of probabilities, Lehrmann did in fact rape Ms Higgins and later lied about it repeatedly, including throughout the defamation proceedings.

“I’ve made findings about the conduct of the applicant and the conduct litigation being disgraceful, that’s a given,” Justice Lee said.

In reserving his ruling on costs to a later date,  he flagged to Ten’s counsel Matthew Collins KC an order would be made in favour of his client.

Ten and Wilkinson separately retained some of the nation’s most highly sought-after legal representation, which could skyrocket Lehrmann’s liability for repaying their costs into the millions of dollars.

In accordance with an earlier court ruling, Ten will be liable for the cost of Wilkinson retaining her own legal representation, which it can also seek to claim from Lehrmann as a legal expense.

Dr Matthew Collins KC arrives at the Federal Court
The judge indicated to Matthew Collins KC a costs order would be made in Ten’s favour. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

However, Justice Lee took issue with a range of conduct by Ten and its lawyers including statements made by Justin Quill in the immediate aftermath of the ruling.

He described comments by Mr Quill including that the Network had been “vindicated” in airing the claims as discourteous and somewhat misleading.

Mr Quill told media gathered outside the hearing the way defamation trials pick apart journalists’ work is “divorced from reality”.

“I made it perfectly plain that what occurred in this case was that the respondents fell well short of a standard of reasonableness in the credulous way they went about reporting these allegations,” Justice Lee said.

Among the issues Justice Lee raised were repeated assertions Brittany Higgins had been left to cope without support by her former boss Linda Reynolds and chief-of-staff Fiona Brown and equating their termination of Lehrmann’s job with “protecting a paedophile”.

“Ms Wilkinson in some respects went even further repeating an allegation that Ms Brown and Senator Reynolds were active participants in a systemic cover-up of alleged criminal conduct,” Justice Lee said.

Also seeking to have his legal costs paid was ex-Seven producer Taylor Auerbach, who appeared as a witness at the defamation hearing with claims he saw Lehrmann buying cocaine and ordering sex workers. 

Ten lawyer Justin Quill (file image)
Justin Quill said the way defamation trials pick apart journalists’ work is “divorced from reality”. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Auerbach submitted his legal costs for complying with the court’s subpoena to produce and give evidence were close to $60,000.

Justice Lee described the terms of the claim as “not on”.

“People that get a subpoena shouldn’t assume that they’re entitled to legal costs,” he said.

In submissions on costs made public last week, Ten’s lawyers described Lehrmann pursuing the claim as “deliberately wicked and calculated”.

“Mr Lehrmann engaged in an abuse of the court’s processes, ran a case based on positive falsities, and put Network Ten to the cost of defending a baseless proceeding,” Mr Collins wrote.

Mr Helvadjian said his client acted reasonably in bringing the lawsuit to vindicate his reputation, despite the result.

“(The) allegation was of serious criminal conduct, the allegation had not been established in any criminal proceedings, the respondents bore the onus of proof, and (Lehrmann) disputed the truth of the allegation,” he wrote.

Justice Lee said his decision on costs would be “relatively prompt”.

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