Warning: the following article contains references to sexual assault

Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation suit against Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson has failed, after a Federal Court judge this afternoon found, on the balance of probabilities, the former Liberal staffer had raped colleague Brittany Higgins in Parliament House.

In a lengthy oral summary of the findings, which was livestreamed from the Sydney courtroom, Justice Michael Lee found Lehrmann was not defamed by Wilkinson’s interview with Higgins during a broadcast of The Project in February 2021, and that allegations of Higgins being raped by Lehrmann in Parliament House in 2019 were substantially true.

Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of going back for his hat.

“I consider it more likely than not, after a long night of conviviality … [that] Mr Lehrmann was hellbent on having sex with a woman he found attractive,” Lee said in his verdict.

“Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of going back for his hat,” he added, referencing the aborted criminal trial in 2022 that preceded the civil defamation case.

Lee also found the 28-year-old encouraged Higgins to drink “well beyond the bounds of sobriety” in the lead-up to the sexual assault, and that he did “not care one way or another whether Ms Higgins understood or agreed to what was going on”.


Channel 10’s Lisa Wilkinson embraces her lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC as she leaves the Federal Court today. Photo: Ike Morris.

A key issue of the case – which Lee described as “an omnishambles” – was whether Lehrmann was identifiable in Ten’s broadcast, as he was not explicitly named during the program. In his verdict, Lee said Lehrmann was identified by The Project, but Ten’s successful truth defence meant the lawsuit was ultimately quashed.

Lehrmann continually denied allegations he raped Higgins in the Parliament House office of Senator Linda Reynolds in the early hours of March 23, 2019, or that he even had sex with her. He pleaded not guilty at his criminal trial in the ACT, which was aborted due to juror misconduct and then abandoned due to Higgins frail mental condition.

In a statement, Ten described the outcome as “a triumph for truth”.

“Justice Lee’s judgment is a vindication for the courageous Brittany Higgins who gave a voice to women across the nation,” the network said.

Speaking briefly outside the court following the judgment, Wilkinson said she had published “a true story” about the events at Parliament House and thanked her legal team – led by Sue Chrysanthou SC – and members of the public for their “unwavering support”.

“I sincerely hope this judgment gives strength to women around the country,” she said.

Lehrmann did not comment as he left the court, despite a barrage of questions from the press pack. He faces potential bankruptcy from extensive legal fees and zero prospect of working again in politics after a disastrous case, that was further compounded by late-breaking, uncontested claims of disgruntled former Channel Seven reporter Taylor Auerbach of his use of drugs and sex workers.

[Ten] defended at great cost this case and Lisa’s journalism.

While Ten and Wilkinson’s truth defence was successful, they were subject to some criticism. Lee did not accept Wilkinson’s conduct in delivering the interview with Higgins and her 2022 Logies speech as being “reasonable”, and further found that Ten’s attempts to contact Lehrmann were “not adequate”.

Meanwhile, Higgins was described as a “complex and in some respects an unsatisfactory witness”, with Lee finding she “selectively curated” material that was presented as evidence.

In a brief statement outside the court, Ten lawyer Justin Quill said he didn’t agree “with everything” presented by Lee, but the network had “defended at great cost this case and Lisa’s journalism”.

Both parties have until April 22 to file submissions for related legal costs.

If this story raises any issues for you, help is available at Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you or someone you know needs to talk about sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

 Main image of Bruce Lehrmann leaving court today by Ike Morris.