Wilkinson, Maiden named in Lehrmann defamation lawsuit

Key points

  • Bruce Lehrmann has filed defamation proceedings against Ten and News Corp over interviews with Brittany Higgins in 2021.
  • The lawsuits also name journalists Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden.
  • Lehrmann was not named in either interview but his lawyers say that he was identified by a range of means.
  • He needs a one-year limitation period extended to bring the lawsuit.

Former federal Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has named veteran journalists Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden as respondents to his defamation lawsuits against Network Ten and News Corp over their reporting of rape allegations made by his former colleague Brittany Higgins.

Lawyers for Lehrmann filed Federal Court statements of claim in both cases on Tuesday afternoon. They have asked the court to extend a one-year limitation period for bringing a claim because the interviews at the centre of the lawsuits, marking Higgins’ first comments in public, were published almost two years ago in February 2021.

Bruce Lehrmann’s lawsuit against Network Ten and News Corp also names journalists Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden as respondents.Credit:Nine

Lehrmann stood trial in the ACT Supreme Court last year on one charge of sexual intercourse without consent. He pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Higgins in the ministerial office of the pair’s then-boss, Coalition senator Linda Reynolds, in March 2019.

The trial was aborted in October due to juror misconduct and the charges were later dropped altogether amid concerns about Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann is seeking to sue Network Ten over Wilkinson’s interview with Higgins on The Project, broadcast on February 15, 2021, and related publications on the 10Play website and YouTube.

He alleges the publications convey four defamatory meanings, including that he “raped Brittany Higgins in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office in 2019”, and “continued to rape Brittany Higgins after she woke up mid-rape and was crying and telling him to stop at least half a dozen times”.

Bruce Lehrmann outside the ACT Supreme Court in October last year.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Lehrmann is also seeking to sue News Life Media, the News Corp company behind News.com.au, over two articles by Maiden, also published on February 15, 2021.

His lawyers say those publications convey a similar range of defamatory meanings, in addition to asserting that Lehrmann “signed Brittany Higgins, who was drunk and did not have her security pass, into Parliament House so he could rape her”.

They allege all four respondents were “recklessly indifferent to the truth or falsity” of the claims.

Lehrmann was not named in either interview but his lawyers say that he was identified by a range of means, including that his identity would have been known to political associates, friends and family, the publications invited readers and viewers “to speculate” and search for third-party commentary online, and Lehrmann was subsequently named in the media on August 7 last year.

Brittany Higgins told the ACT Supreme Court that Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden would be fighting it out at Walkleys time.Credit:AAP

His lawyers refer to Higgins’ evidence in the ACT Supreme Court last year suggesting Wilkinson and Maiden were “fighting so that, come Walkleys time, who could claim what,” in an apparent reference to the timing of the release of the stories in 2021.

They allege the hurt and harm to Lehrmann was aggravated by the fact that the journalists were, in their words, seeking to “exploit” the allegations for “professional gain”.

Under the NSW Limitations Act, a court may extend the one-year limitation period for bringing a defamation action for up to three years from the date of publication “if the plaintiff satisfies the court … it is just and reasonable to allow an action to proceed”.

However, the court will consider all the circumstances including “the length of, and the reasons for, the plaintiff’s delay”.

Naming journalists as respondents to a defamation case does not mean they will be liable personally for any damages award. Ten and News Corp would cover any such order.

Ten and News are expected to file defences at a later date.

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