Lehrmann lawyers to receive no payment for failed case

Duncan Murray |

Bruce Lehrmann had an agreement with lawyers that meant he only had to pay them if he won.
Bruce Lehrmann had an agreement with lawyers that meant he only had to pay them if he won.

The legal firm behind Bruce Lehrmann’s failed defamation lawsuit will receive no payment for more than a year of work on the high-stakes case after agreeing to a “no win, no fee” deal with the alleged rapist.

A Federal Court hearing was told on Wednesday the former Liberal staffer also had no third-party financial backers in his long-running suit against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

Lehrmann’s defamation claim stemmed from a 2021 interview by Wilkinson with Brittany Higgins about allegations she was raped in Parliament House following a night out in 2019.

Justice Michael Lee ruled in favour of Ten and Wilkinson in April, finding Lehrmann most likely raped Ms Higgins, supporting a truth defence.

Barrister Sue Chrysanthou KC (left), and Lisa Wilkinson (file image)
A judgment on Friday will determine how much of Ten and Lisa Wilkinson’s costs Lehrmann will pay. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Before a judgment on Friday over how much of Ten and Wilkinson’s legal costs Lehrmann will be forced to pay, lawyers from Mark O’Brien Legal produced a statement divulging the 28-year-old’s arrangements with them.

Lehrmann had a conditional costs agreement with the firm, which meant he had no obligation to pay in the event the proceedings were unsuccessful, the court heard.

Firm principal Paul Svilans noted there was also no third party to the agreement who agreed to pay the legal fees if the court claim was unsuccessful.

“There’s been a lot of costs rendered but they’re not recoverable because Mr Lehrmann … lost and there’s no third-party agreement to pay costs,” Justice Lee summarised.

The judge is due to deliver his decision on costs on Friday, when the decision will be live-streamed due to the public interest in the case.

“I would like to make that the last judgment I need to deliver in relation to this matter,” he said.

Justice Lee stood the case down for two hours to allow Ten to respond to the fresh information from Lehrmann’s lawyers, adding he would excuse Mr Svilans from appearing if he did not wish to.

“I appreciate that you’re not being paid for being here,” he said.

Ten ultimately opted not to make any further applications.

Network Ten lawyer Dr Matthew Collins KC (file image)
Matt Collins KC described Lehrmann pursuing the claim as “deliberately wicked and calculated”. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Justice Lee previously indicated Lehrmann would likely be responsible for paying at least some of Ten’s costs after labelling his conduct throughout the litigation “disgraceful”.

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.

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

In submissions on costs made public last month, Ten’s lawyer Matt Collins KC described Lehrmann pursuing the defamation 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,” he wrote.

A different litigation team was reviewing the case to determine the possibility of success if Lehrmann chose to appeal the case’s outcome, a costs hearing was told in April.

Justice Lee granted a motion to extend the time to lodge an appeal, giving Lehrmann until May 31. 

Lehrmann’s rape trial in the ACT Supreme Court was eventually aborted because of juror misconduct and the case was abandoned by prosecutors over fears for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

He has denied any sexual contact occurred.

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