Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins will both give evidence orally in an upcoming defamation trial, a judge has decided, as he rules the four-week trial will simultaneously address cases against Network Ten and the ABC.
Mr Lehrmann launched defamation action in March against Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over the 2021 coverage of Ms Higgins’ rape allegation against him.
He later also launched proceedings against the ABC over the live broadcast of a National Press Club address by Ms Higgins.
While he was not named in the report or Ms Higgins’ speech, Mr Lehrmann claims he was still identified by the media companies and that there were four defamatory meanings in their publication implying he raped Ms Higgins at Parliament House in March 2019.
He has strongly denied all allegations.
The case has been travelling through the Federal Court since Justice Michael Lee granted an extension of time earlier this year.
The matter returned to court for a preliminary hearing on Monday, ahead of the trial which has been set down for November 20 and is expected to go for four weeks.
The court heard there have been issues with the preparation of the case in the lead-up to the hearing, as Mr Lehrmann’s lawyers had not received an affidavit from Ms Higgins.
But rather than have them provide affidavits to the court, Justice Lee said he wanted to hear Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins give evidence “viva voce”.
This means both parties would be giving their evidence-in-chief orally rather than in written document to the court.
This is the first time Mr Lehrmann will give evidence, as he did not take the stand during the criminal trial.
While the trial was originally just going to hear the case between Mr Lehrmann and Network 10, Justice Lee on Monday decided he would hear both cases together.
“There’s clear battlelines in this case including a public interest defence in ABC proceedings,” he told the court.
“I do think I’ll hear both proceedings together.”
The court was told the evidence in the trial will also include expert witnesses who gave evidence on “reaction and responses of victims of sexual assault”, and a toxicology expert who analysed Ms Higgins and her “level of intoxication”.
Justice Lee said he had no idea expert witnesses were going to give evidence, and said he had the intention of determining whether the reports would be admissible ahead of the trial.
In May, Mr Lehrmann dropped a defamation lawsuit against News Corp’s News Life Media and journalist Samantha Maiden.
News Life Media did not have to make an apology or pay damages, and the articles of concern have remained online.
Mr Lehrmann’s Supreme Court trial in the ACT last year was aborted due to juror misconduct. He had pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Ms Higgins.
The charges were subsequently dropped by the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, who declined to pursue a retrial over concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Mr Lehrmann has continued to deny the allegations.