Ten wins ‘exceptional bid’ to reopen Lehrmann case

Luke Costin |

Network Ten is seeking to reopen its defamation lawsuit with Bruce Lehrmann.
Network Ten is seeking to reopen its defamation lawsuit with Bruce Lehrmann.

Bruce Lehrmann’s lawsuit against Network Ten has been extraordinarily reopened for new evidence suggesting the former political staffer abused a court process.

The 28-year-old was due to learn on Thursday whether his defamation case over reports of his alleged rape of Brittany Higgins had succeeded.

But, with the judgment cooling off in the printer, Justice Michael Lee on Tuesday agreed last-minute evidence concerning leaked text messages should be admitted.

“This is clearly fresh evidence,” he said in the Federal Court on Tuesday evening.

A further hearing will be held on Thursday and Friday, with judgment delayed at least a week.

Ten said the potentially case-changing evidence came from a television producer who had worked to secure an exclusive interview with Mr Lehrmann for network rival Seven.

It included an allegation that Mr Lehrmann, 28, provided the producer more than 2300 pages of “deeply personal exchanges” between Ms Higgins and her former boyfriend, in breach of the longstanding rule in legal practice known as the Harman undertaking.

Mr Lehrmann received the material, going back years, while defending himself in a criminal trial.

Justice Lee said the evidence may change the determination of the case and agreed with Ten that it went further than merely a question of credit.

It also drew into question whether Mr Lehrmann had abused the court process, Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins KC said.

Network Ten lawyer Matthew Collins
Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins says the new evidence is capable of affecting the case. (Steven Saphore/AAP PHOTOS)

Dr Collins, who described Ten’s bid as “unusual and exceptional”, further accused Mr Lehrmann of giving his barristers instructions “that must have been wrong”.

His barristers had previously told Ten and the court the undertaking concerning Ms Higgins’ messages had not been breached.

“This is not a trivial matter,” Dr Collins said.

“If the (producer) evidence is accepted, our submission will be it’s a very serious matter.”

Mr Lehrmann sued Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a February 2021 report on The Project where Ms Higgins was interviewed about her alleged rape in a Parliament House office in Canberra in March 2019.

He is seeking extensive damages, saying those reports have destroyed his reputation.

Mr Lehrmann denies raping Ms Higgins.

His barrister on Tuesday urged Justice Lee to dismiss the last-minute application, saying both his client and Ms Higgins had told many lies on oath.

“It’s really lipstick on a pig,” barrister Matthew Richardson SC said.

“This stuff is trivial, it’s just not relevant and to give leave to reopen on that sort of material would be inappropriate.”

He did not comment on whether Mr Lehrmann’s instructions about the Harman undertaking had changed.

Tuesday’s urgent hearing came after Ten filed its bid to reopen the case on Easter Sunday.

“I thought I had finished my work in this matter in Lent,” Justice Lee quipped.

The judge said he remained hopeful of delivering his judgment next week.