Part 1: The Trial of Bruce Lehrmann

Over the last couple of years many of you will have read about or watched media reports of the trial of Bruce Lehrmann involving the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the Australian Capital Territory in 2019. This matter has had enormous media coverage for the past couple of years and is an extremely interesting matter for a number of reasons – not just from a legal perspective, but also from a social one.

Firstly, the allegations themselves deeply divided the country. Many were supportive of Lehrmann and believed that Higgins was fabricating her allegations. His supporters claim that he is the victim of the ‘Me Too Movement’ gone too far (a reference to a movement that developed out of the United States a few years ago where a mass number of mainly women alleged sexual misconduct of past years). On the other hand, many others were supportive of Higgins and believed that she was not only the victim of Lehrmann but also betrayed by the investigating police and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Secondly, Higgins drew support from a very vocal and very public media identity – Lisa Wilkinson – who took the trial to the Australian public and even referenced the matter when she won a Logies Award. In front of the whole country she spoke about the matter, which ultimately led to the first trial having to be vacated, which is discussed later in this article. Wilkinson’s involvement shone a spotlight on this matter and if anyone in Australia wasn’t aware of the matter prior, they certainly were after her now infamous Logies speech.

Thirdly, following the conclusion of the matter when the charges were ultimately discontinued, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Australian Federal Police, two organisations that work for the same cause and are ‘on the same side’ became embroiled in a very bitter and very public fight about who was at fault for the failed prosecution of the matter.

Finally, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the most senior prosecutor in the ACT and the prosecutor in charge of the trial, called for a public inquiry into the matter to investigate allegations that the police had engaged in misconduct, assisting the defence and not working with his office. An inquiry was indeed held, but ultimately had dire consequences for the DPP and led to his resignation.

The entire saga has the makings of a great movie and this is the first part in a series of articles that will explore the background of the matter, explain how the matter proceeded through the courts and look at legal issues such as a prosecutor’s duties in the prosecution of a matter.


On 15 February 2021, Liberal Party staff member Brittany Higgins disclosed to two separate media outlets, Channel 10’s television show ‘The Project’ and ‘’ that she was raped on the morning of 23 March 2019 in the then Defence Industry Minister Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in parliament house by a colleague, Bruce Lehrmann. Higgins claimed that she became heavily intoxicated at a work party and left with Lehrmann in a taxi, believing that both were going to their own homes. Instead, she claims that she was taken to Parliament House and raped while she was slipping in and out of consciousness – waking to find her skirt around her waist.

Lehrmann was questioned by the police and told them that he and Higgins returned to Parliament House because he needed to collect his keys and that Higgins needed to return for a different reason and that he offered to share his taxi with her. He claimed that once they arrived he went one way and she went another. He claimed that he did some work and then left the office without seeing Higgins again.

Higgins was later found by security personnel to be completely naked, intoxicated and disorientated in the early hours of the morning in the office. She went to the police to report the incident but dropped the complaint in April 2019 as she was afraid that the incident would lead to the termination of her employment. She then transferred to work for another Minister for one year before resigning in 2020 and then eventually going public with her allegations.

The first trial

This matter was one of the most watched trials in Australian history and deeply divided members of the public. The first trial was originally scheduled to commence on 27 June 2022 but ultimately had to be de-listed.

By this stage, the matter had already attracted enormous publicity. It had all the hallmarks of a movie – alleged offending that had occurred in the office of the Minister of the Defence Industry inside Parliament House. Despite being warned by prosecutors that further publicity about this matter could lead to the trial being delayed, media personality Lisa Wilkinson gave a Logies acceptance speech referencing Brittany Higgins on national television, in front of an entire country.

ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum cancelled the scheduled June 27 trial start date, saying she was not satisfied any clarification or orders (directions) to a jury to disregard reporting of Wilkinson’s speech or any pre-existing ideas they might have about the case would ensure a fair trial. “Regrettably and with gritted teeth, I have concluded that the trial date of 27 June, towards which the parties have been carefully steering, should be vacated,” she said.

The first trial ultimately commenced on 4 October 2022 and ran for 15 days before concluding on 19 October when the jury retired to consider its verdict. On 27 October the trial was aborted when it was discovered that a juror had conducted private research and taken their findings into the jury room, which is entirely disallowed and illegal in Australia. At the commencement of any trial, and at several times throughout each day of the trial, the jury are warned that they are not to conduct their own private research into a matter. This is essentially to ensure fairness because it is common knowledge that what is often published or portrayed on the internet isn’t accurate and so a juror is blocked from accessing this material as it may infect their view of the matter. It is so serious that it can amount to a contempt of court and can ultimately result in a prison term.

But the drama didn’t end there. In the next article we’ll discuss the bitter fight that ensued between the prosecution and the police – two organisations that are supposed to be on the same side.

If you’re needing assistance with legal matters or determining your legal rights, Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

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