Reynolds and Higgins defamation case returns to court
Aaron Bunch |
A pair of high-profile defamation cases that pit Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds against former political staffer Brittany Higgins and her partner have returned to court.
The former defence minister is suing Ms Higgins and David Sharaz over a series of social media posts that she says have damaged her reputation.
Lawyers for the parties appeared in the Western Australian Supreme Court on Tuesday, where they sorted out key dates in preparation for a trial should mediation scheduled for March 5 fail.
They also discussed whether Justice Marcus Solomon should oversee the mediation or trial, which is provisionally listed for six weeks from July 24.
He cannot legally do both and Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz want him to handle the mediation, which was opposed by Senator Reynolds.
Justice Solomon repeated his earlier concerns about the human cost of a trial and urged the parties to work together to resolve the matter before it gets to trial.
Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz left Australia in December to start a new life in France, with social media posts showing the Arc de Triomphe and the couple walking a dog.
Senator Reynolds has reportedly said she is awaiting advice from French lawyers about her right to enforce an Australian judgment against assets the pair may have in France.
She is suing Mr Sharaz over tweets he made and a Facebook comment in 2022.
Among the defamatory imputations claimed against Mr Sharaz’s tweets were that Senator Reynolds pressured Ms Higgins not to proceed with a genuine complaint to police, “is a hypocrite in her advocacy for women’s interests and empowerment”, interfered in Bruce Lehrmann’s trial and bullied Ms Higgins.
Senator Reynolds claims she was also defamed by Mr Sharaz’s reply to a comment on her Facebook page that asked how she was still in politics having “destroyed” Ms Higgins.
The commenter added, “You’re a monster who deserves to be in jail”.
Mr Sharaz responded: “Thanks for reminding her. I hope she hears this every day until she dies”, the senator’s statement of claim says.
Ms Higgins is accused of posting defamatory material on two occasions on her Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Ms Higgins alleged she was raped in 2019 by Lehrmann inside the Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office, where he also worked as a staffer.
Lehrmann consistently denied the allegation, and his trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.
Prosecutors decided not to pursue further action, citing concerns of the impact it may have on Ms Higgins’ mental health.
He has since been charged with raping another woman in Queensland and his lawyers have indicated he will plead not guilty.AAP