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- Watch the hearing live here from 9.30am (AEDT)
Brittany Higgins returns to the witness box on Tuesday for a third day of cross-examination in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson, after giving hours of evidence about the night she alleges she was raped by Lehrmann in Parliament House.
Higgins broke down in tears in the Federal Court in Sydney last week as she alleged Lehrmann sexually assaulted her in the early hours of Saturday, March 23, 2019, in the office of then-Liberal defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, for whom they worked as advisers.
Brittany Higgins leaves the Federal Court in Sydney last Friday.Credit: James Brickwood
The court has heard Lehrmann left the office at about 2.30am, while Higgins did not emerge from the building until about 10am.
Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over an interview with Higgins, aired on The Project on February 15, 2021, that he alleges wrongly accuses him of sexually assaulting Higgins. He was not named in the broadcast and a preliminary issue in the case is whether he was identified via other means.
If the court finds he was identified, Ten and Wilkinson are seeking to rely on a range of defences including truth, which would require the court to be satisfied to the civil standard – on the balance of probabilities – that he raped Higgins. They have called Higgins to give evidence as part of their truth defence.
Bruce Lehrmann leaves the Federal Court in Sydney last Friday.Credit: James Brickwood
During lengthy cross-examination last week, Higgins denied going public with her allegation in 2021 to affect the outcome of the 2022 federal election.
“It was not about the Liberal Party. It was about women in politics,” she said. Higgins said she had been a “Liberal through and through” since birth and still was at that time, although she was no longer.
Ten’s barrister, Dr Matt Collins, KC, told the court on Friday that the length of Higgins’ cross-examination was “becoming oppressive”.
The former Liberal staffer started giving evidence on Wednesday and was cross-examined on Thursday and Friday. The court did not sit on Monday.
Lehrmann’s barrister, Steven Whybrow, SC, foreshadowed the cross-examination may not be finished on Tuesday.
“It’s longer than the period Mr Lehrmann was in the witness box and she’s just a witness,” Collins said.
The hearing will start at 9.30am on Tuesday instead of the usual 10.15am and may sit later to enable the cross-examination to be finished in one day.
Sexual assault denied
Lehrmann has denied sexually assaulting Higgins and has told the court that there was no sexual contact between the pair at any stage.
He has also denied attempting to kiss Higgins after a staff dinner earlier in March 2019, as Higgins has claimed, and said he did not recall a staff dinner on the day in question.
Lehrmann’s ACT Supreme Court trial for sexual assault was aborted last year due to juror misconduct. The charge against Lehrmann was later dropped altogether owing to concerns about Higgins’ mental health. He has always maintained his innocence.
Higgins and Lehrmann have marked up maps of Reynolds’ office during their evidence, showing their accounts of what transpired in Parliament House on March 23.
On Lehrmann’s account, the pair parted ways once they entered the office and he did not see Higgins again.
On Higgins’ account, she sat at a window overlooking the Prime Minister’s courtyard for a period of time before she remembers waking up on a couch in Reynolds’ office while Lehrmann was sexually assaulting her.
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