The entire 12 person jury on the Bruce Lehrmann trial has been discharged, after one juror was found to have brought in outside material.
“It has come to my attention that one of you, contrary to directions, has undertaken research in relation to issues in the case and that material has entered the jury room that ought not to have,” Chief justice Lucy McCallum said.
“I have heard an explanation and it may be that no harm has been done, but that is not a risk that I can take. In the circumstances, I have discharged that juror and I have to discharge you all.”
A retrial date has been set for February 23, 2023. Lehrmann has been granted bail until February 20.
The court hear the juror brought in a research paper on sexual assault, The Guardian reports. The paper, which “attempted to quanity the number of false sexual assault complaints”, was discovered accidentally by the sheriff’s officer while cleaning.
The jury had been explicitly told it was not appropriate to conduct their own research, McCallum said.
“During the course of the trial on my calculation, I must have given the jury at least 17 directions not to conduct research of their own,” she said.
If the incident had occured in NSW, rather than the ACT, it may had warranted an offence.
The jury had been deliberating since last Wedneday, telling the ACT court on Tuesday that it was unable to reach a verdict.
McCallum requested the jurors “go away again to re-examine points in disagreement and try and reach a unanimous verdict.”
The trial was one of Australia’s most prolific sexual assault cases after Higgins accused Lehrmann of raping her inside Parliament House on March 21, 2019. Lehrmann denied all charges and pled not guilty.
It saw 29 witnesses come forward to give evidence, including former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds and former Liberal MP Steven Ciobo, whom Lehrmann and Higgins worked for at the time of the alleged assault, respectively.
On October 14, Higgins finished giving her evidence with an emotionally charged statement to Lehrmann: “Nothing was fine after what you did to me,” she said in court.
When questioned by Lehrmann’s defence lawyer, Steven Whybrow about the time it took for her to mention the rape to her chief of staff, Higgins replied: “Because up until then I was holding it in, holding it in, holding it in, pretending like everything was fine and it wasn’t.”
Prosecutor Shane Drumgold SC presented his closing argument to the jury on October 18, telling them that if Higgins had fabricated her story, then she was “quite the actor”.
“She appears to have supported it with consistent performances of emotion, ranging from being upset, being extremely upset, and being broken,” he told the court.
He maintained Higgins was a genuine, honest, and credible witness, and that her allegations had remained consistent in complaints to colleagues, the police, and the court.
Meanwhile Whybrow closed his argument on October 19, by telling the jury that the alleged rape “didn’t happen”.
“Our contention is that it didn’t. There was no sex. It didn’t happen,” he said.
He called Higgins’ credibility into question over several “inconsistencies” in her argument, including a photo of a bruise that Higgins claimed was taken in the aftermath of the 2019 rape. Examinations of her phone by the police could not locate the image, nor was there a reference to it via texts until 2021.
He also called into question Higgins’ claim she visited a doctor within two weeks of the alleged assault, but police had no record of her attending the appointment.
“I put it to you, I suggest that that bruise was the equivalent of going to the doctor in 2019,” Whybrow said. “It’s something she made up to make it sound more believable,” he told the jury.
What did Brittany Higgins accuse Bruce Lehrmann of?
Drumgold told the court in his opening statement that on the night of March 23, 2019, Brittany and Lehrmann decided to share a taxi to their respective homes after attending a work drinks together.
But the court heard that Lehrmann diverted the taxi’s course by telling Higgins he needed to collect work documents from Senator Reynolds’ office at Parliament House. Maintaining that Higgins was extremely intoxicated, Drumgold said the pair then allegedly entered Senator Reynolds’ office where Higgins fell asleep on the couch. The court heard that when she woke up, Lehrmann was allegedly having sex with her.
Drumgold told the court that Higgins said “said ‘no’ half a dozen times”, and that after the alleged act, Lehrmann left the building without Higgins.
The case sparked international media attention stemming back to when Higgins first made the allegations to Australian journalists Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden in early 2021.
Conscious of the widespread coverage, Chief Justice McCallum issued a clear warning to the jury in October, asking them to refrain from reading media coverage around the case, nor discussing what they heard in court with others given this could impact the course of a fair and impartial trial.
If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you 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 or contact Full Stop Australia.