Bruce Lehrmann loses defamation case against 10 and Lisa Wilkinson

Bruce Lehrmann

Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins on the balance of probabilities, Justice Lee found, meaning 10 and Wilkinson succeeded in their truth defence.

Bruce Lehrmann has lost his defamation case against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson, after Justice Michael Lee found Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins on the balance of probabilities.

Lehrmann sued 10 and Wilkinson over a February 2021 interview with Higgins that aired on The Project. In the interview, Higgins made the allegation that she had been raped in an office at Parliament House.

Whilst he was not named, Lerhmann claimed that “his name was widely trafficked as the culprit on social media and the internet generally”. His lawyers added that it was “notorious in Parliament House and elsewhere that Mr Lehrmann was the person alleged to have assaulted Ms Higgins”.

In a marathon summary of his judgment, Justice Lee agreed that Lehrmann was identifiable in The Project interview, so his decision turned to whether 10 and Wilkinson could successfully rely on a truth defence.

Lehrmann raped Higgins on the balance of probabilities, Justice Lee found, meaning 10 and Wilkinson succeeded in that truth defence.

The judgment is 324 pages long, with more than 45,000 people tuning in to the livestream of the decision at one point – the audio of which cut out just minutes after Justice Lee began speaking at 10:15am. The court was adjourned to fix the technical issue, with the judge’s summary concluding just after 1:30pm.

“The underlying controversy has become a cause célèbre. Indeed, given its unexpected detours and the collateral damage it has occasioned, it might be more fitting to describe it as an omnishambles,” the federal court judge said of the case, before the audio failed.

When the audio issue was fixed, Justice Lee said Lehrmann’s attachment to the truth was “tenuous”, he had “Walter Mitty-like imaginings”, and he wasn’t afraid to depart from the truth. However, he also believed Brittany Higgins was an “unsatisfactory” witness.

Lehrmann was “less than candid” in his evidence about the benefits he received from the Seven Network, and made “false representations” about documents he provided to Seven as part of his appearance on the Spotlight program, the judge added.

Lehrmann and Wilkinson were both present in courtroom one in Sydney’s federal court building to hear the judgment. Wilkinson’s now-infamous Logies acceptance speech, which led to Lehrmann’s criminal trial being delayed in 2022, was “fraught with danger,” the judge said. 

However, Wilkinson has less culpability around the speech than those at 10 who approved it, including 10’s lawyers, according to Justice Lee.

Justice Lee delivering his judgment

He added the case was so controversial because it became a lightning rod for bigger cultural conversations: “Some jumped to predetermined conclusions because they are disposed to be sceptical about complaints of sexual assault, and hold stereotype beliefs about the expected behaviour of rape victims, described by social scientists as rape myths.

“Others say they believe all women, surrendering their critical faculties by embracing and acting upon a slogan arising out of the #MeToo movement. Some have a predetermined view.”

In a statement, Network 10 said after the verdict said: “At its core, this case was first and foremost about truth, and Justice Lee has found that Network 10 prevailed in proving that Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape were true.

“This judgment is a triumph for truth.”

The statement also notes that the Network is “considering” Justice Lee’s judgment, and has said that “it is clear … that Australia’s defamation laws remain highly restrictive.

“When put to the test, it was always our obligation to inform the public of these important social and political matters notwithstanding the challenges presented by these laws and today’s judgment vindicates the telling of Brittany’s story.”

The case has attracted widespread media attention, particularly in recent weeks as the case was re-opened to hear the evidence of Seven’s ex-Spotlight producer, Taylor Auerbach

See Also: Taylor Auerbach takes to the stand in Bruce Lehrmann trial

Lehrmann provided two interviews for Spotlight in 2023. The interviews, conducted by journalist Liam Bartlett, were aired in June and August.

In both an affidavit and his evidence to the court, Auerbach detailed the lengths to which the program allegedly went to secure its now infamous interviews with Lehrmann – including reimbursement for illicit drugs and sex workers, $10,300 on Thai massages, several expensive dinners, and a $401.83 round of golf in Tasmania.

This was on top of the company’s decision to pay for Lehrmann’s rent in Sydney, which had already been widely reported – and was the reason for The Walkley Foundation revoking the finalist status of the Spotlight interviews.

In the wake of Auerbach’s evidence, Spotlight executive producer Mark Llewellyn left Seven. This morning, a Seven spokesperson confirmed: “Mark Llewellyn no longer works for the Seven Network.”

See Also: Walkley Foundation “revokes finalist status” of Seven’s Spotlight interview with Bruce Lehrmann

This is the first of Lehrmann’s defamation cases to reach a conclusion, after he previously dropped two others.

One was against the ABC, which was settled in November 2023, launched after the ABC broadcast a speech by Brittany Higgins. The National Press Club speech, made by Higgins alongside former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, was aired in February 2022.

The other was against News Corp, which was settled last May. Lehrmann took defamation action against both News Life Media – publisher of – and Samantha Maiden,’s national political editor. 

In the News Corp case, Lehrmann claimed that he was identifiable in two articles reporting on the March 2019 allegation that Brittany Higgins was sexually assaulted in Parliament House. 

More to come.

Top Image: Bruce Lehrmann

To Top