Justice Lee finds Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins.

Bruce Lehrmann has lost his defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

Lehrmann was suing  based on the now infamous February 2021 interview on The Project in which former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was sexually assaulted inside Parliament House while she worked there. 

Higgins alleged Lehrmann raped her in the office of then Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds in the early hours of Saturday March 23, 2019. Lehrmann has always strenuously denied any sexual contact with Higgins. 

Lehrmann was not named in Network Ten's broadcast, but he alleged details made him identifiable, and that The Project report was defamatory and had destroyed his reputation.

Justice Michael Lee said he was satisfied Lehrmann had established a threshold issue in the case: namely, that he was identified by Network Ten's The Project, even though he was not named in the interview. It meant Justice Lee had to consider Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson's defences of contextual truth and qualified privilege.

Announcing the verdict, Justice Lee said he "entirely rejected" Lehrmann's version of events in the ministerial suite. He found that Higgins was "seriously inebriated" on the night in question.

"I am convinced however that sexual intercourse did take place," Justice Lee said.

Justice Lee said he was not satisfied that Higgins said "no" repeatedly, but he believes she was passive "like a log", and that afterwards she passed into a deep sleep. Justice Lee said he had reached a state of "actual persuasion" that Higgins did not consent.


"Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins," he said. "I hasten to stress that this is a finding based on the basis of probabilities. As I've explained there's a substantive difference between the criminal standard of proof and the civil standard of proof."

Justice Lee determined that Network Ten's lawyers had established, on the balance of probabilities, that Lehrmann had non-consensual sexual intercourse with Higgins in Minister Reynolds' office in 2019. Being a civil proceeding, a defamation trial works on the balance of probabilities, rather than the higher standard of beyond reasonable doubt used in criminal prosecutions.

"Having escaped the lion's den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat. [Mr Lehrmann] has now been found at the civil standard of proof, to engage in a great wrong. It follows Ms Higgins has been proven to be a victim of sexual assault. He did not care one way or the other, whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed to what was going on."

Justice Lee ordered that the parties file submissions on costs by 22 April.

READ MORE: The 20 biggest revelations in the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case.

Following the verdict, Lisa Wilkinson said outside of court: "I feel glad for the women of Australia today."


In a statement, Network Ten said: "This judgment is a triumph for truth. Justice Lee's judgment is vindication for the courageous Brittany Higgins who gave a voice to women across the nation. 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."

They said they will be considering Justice Lee's 324-page judgment.

The case played out in court in late 2023, and the trial ran for five weeks. The court heard from several witnesses, including Lehrmann, Higgins, Wilkinson and other Network Ten staff, and other witnesses who told the court Higgins disclosed her allegation to them.

On Tuesday April 2, there was a bid to introduce new evidence in the case, which was approved. Justice Michael Lee agreed the "fresh evidence" concerning leaked text messages should be admitted.

Network Ten had said the potentially case-changing evidence came from a television producer who had worked to secure an exclusive interview with Lehrmann for Network Seven. It included an allegation that Lehrmann provided the producer with more than 2,300 pages of "deeply personal exchanges" between Higgins and her former boyfriend, in breach of the longstanding rule in legal practice known as the Harman undertaking.


Lehrmann received the material, going back years, while defending himself in a criminal trial.

The Seven Network producer, Taylor Auerbach, worked on Seven's Spotlight program. The show did a sitdown with Lehrmann in mid 2023. During the defamation trial, it was confirmed that Seven had been paying Lehrmann's rent for a year as part of an arrangement to deliver the interview.

The defamation proceedings came a year after the ACT Supreme Court's criminal trial over Higgins' alleged sexual assault was derailed by juror misconduct. At the time, prosecutors did not seek a re-trial because of concerns over her mental health.

Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence and hasn't been convicted of any crime.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here

Feature Image: AAP.