Ten seeks to prove rape in Lehrmann defamation defence
Network Ten will seek to prove former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann raped his then-colleague Brittany Higgins in its defence against a defamation claim.
Lehrmann launched defamation action against Network Ten and News Corp for their coverage of rape allegations made by his former colleague.
Ten filed its defence with the Federal Court on Tuesday night, joining with journalist Lisa Wilkinson who is also seeking to prove the allegation true as part of her own defence.
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Court documents outlining the network's defence say it will rely upon the "substantial imbalance of power" between Lehrmann and Higgins while they worked in the office of then-defence minister Linda Reynolds.
Lawyers for the network will claim Lehrmann "was sexually attracted" to Higgins and "attempted to kiss" her in the days leading up to the alleged rape.
The network's defence will rely on Lehrmann's "lies, inconsistencies and consciousness of guilt", including his differing explanations for going to Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape.
Lehrmann also missed six calls from his then-girlfriend that night, which the network references as being a "consciousness of guilt for having raped" Higgins.
"Lehrmann's multiple inconsistent and/or knowingly false accounts are consistent with a consciousness of guilt for having raped Higgins," the defence says.
Network Ten will defend its publishing of Higgins' allegations as being in the public interest because of Lehrmann's role as a senior ministerial advisor.
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The defence also details multiple meetings between Ten journalists, lawyers and Higgins before the interview with Wilkinson was published.
"Ten reasonably believed that the information it included in the matters complained of was true, and omitted any information which could not be independently verified," the defence says.
Lawyers also say the media company made "reasonable attempts" to contact Lehrmann to obtain his side of the story before the interview went to air, but he did not respond.
"Had Lehrmann responded to Ten's attempts to contact him, Ten would have included Lehrmann's side of the story, by including his response or the substance of his response, in the matters complained of," the defence says.
Ten also denies it identified Lehrmann in the original report and said his name was not used with the broader production team.
NewsLifeMedia, the publisher of news.com.au, whose political editor Samantha Maiden is also named in the suit, similarly said Lehrmann was not identified.
The company said nothing had been provided to support Lehrmann's allegation, which it denies, that it acted with reckless indifference about whether the claims were true or not.
Lehrmann was not contacted prior to publication, but News said it was not necessary to contact him because he was not being identified, had already declined to comment to Network Ten, and later told police he had no intention to respond to media inquiries.
Statements of claim for Lehrmann filed in the defamation action said his personal reputation had been "greatly injured" as a result of the allegations.
"(Lehrmann) has been greatly injured in his personal and professional reputation and has been and will be brought into public disrepute," the statement said.
Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegations.
His criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed last year because of juror misconduct.
The prosecutor later dropped the charges due to the impact a second trial would have on Higgins' mental health.
The ACT government has launched an independent inquiry into the handling of Higgins' rape allegations by police, prosecutors and a victim's support service.