Bruce Lehrmann was scheduled to stand trial next Monday for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins inside Parliament House in 2019, but ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum has halted proceedings over Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech, which she believes has regenerated new interest in the case, potentially causing prejudice over proceedings.
Today, the court was informed that Wilkinson’s acceptance speech, which referenced Higgins, attracted significant media attention which could potentially compromise the case.
“What concerns me is that the distinction between allegation and guilt has been completely obliterated,” McCallum said.
Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow, argued that the renewed publicity around the speech posed a threat to the trial process.
“I am seeking a temporary stay so the publicity can die down and my client can get a fair trial,” he said, before adding that the speech “did not need to be made.”
After internal deliberations, the decision was made at 2pm that the trial would be postponed following Wilkinson’s speech. According to ACT law, those accused of sex crimes must face a jury, with Lehrmann’s lawyer hoping that a delay will increase his client’s likelihood of a trial without media bias.
The decision has not been well-received by all, particularly the ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, who referred to the potential impact of the speech on a jury as purely “speculation.”
He also argued that Wilkinson’s opinions on the matter were already widely known and therefore not likely to cause major disruption. McCallum, however, argued that this time was different, as Wilkinson had given her opinion “with the endorsement of a glittering award for good journalism”.
“Mightn’t good journalism be mindful of criminal proceedings and remembering to insert the magic word ‘alleged’?” McCallum added.
This isn’t the first time the Higgins case has been delayed, with Lehrmann making an application to halt proceedings back in April after it emerged that he no longer had a barrister. His request was denied, with Mr Whybrow now set to represent him.
Whybrow revealed that Lehrmann was not keen on a delay and wanted to “get it on,” but added that he also wanted a fair trial.
A new court date has not yet been set.