SYDNEY, April 15 — A former government adviser raped a colleague in a Parliament House office, an Australian judge found today, dismissing a defamation suit in a case that has gripped the nation.

Bruce Lehrmann, a staff member in a previous government, brought a defamation suit against Australian media company Network Ten after it aired an interview with his accuser, Brittany Higgins, in 2021.

Justice Michael Lee of Australia’s Federal Court said on Monday he had found Lehrmann raped Higgins on the lower “balance of probabilities” standard used in civil trials, rather than that of “beyond all reasonable doubt” used in criminal trials.

“My conclusion on rape. Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins,” he told the court in comments that were livestreamed to tens of thousands of viewers.


“I hasten to stress this is a finding on the balance of probabilities.”

Lehrmann made no comment to reporters as he left the court. He has previously denied all wrongdoing.

Lehrmann was first accused of raping Higgins in a ministerial office in the capital, Canberra, in 2019.


The Network Ten interview with Higgins did not name Lehrmann, but the judge found he had been identified based on other details provided on the programme.

A criminal trial collapsed in 2022 after a juror was found conducting individual research into the case, and a proposed retrial was abandoned after prosecutors said it would severely harm Higgins’ mental health.

“Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat,” Lee said in his judgment, referring to Lehrmann’s decision to file the defamation case.

Lee will rule who will pay legal costs of both sides, estimated to be in the millions of dollars, at a later date.

Defamation laws

Lehrmann’s case has turned attention to defamation law in Australia, which has no written provision for freedom of speech in its constitution. Media organisations say defamation laws overwhelmingly favour the accuser.

“This judgment is a triumph for truth,” a spokesperson for Network Ten said in a statement.

“It is clear however that Australia’s defamation laws remain highly restrictive.”

The case has parallels to that of Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated war veteran, who was found last year to have been “complicit in and responsible for the murder” of three Afghan men, after bringing his own defamation suit against three Australian newspapers. Roberts-Smith is appealing the ruling.

Higgins’ accusation had rocked the government of then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who struggled to assuage public anger ahead of a federal election, amid reports of sexual abuse, female discrimination and misconduct in parliament.

Morrison lost power in 2022.

The case also embroiled two of Australia’s largest media organisations after Higgins, who waived her right to anonymity during the initial criminal trial, gave the interview to Network Ten about her experience.

During the defamation trial, the court was told lurid details of how producers at rival TV network Seven spent thousands of dollars on drugs and sex workers in a bid to secure an exclusive interview with Lehrmann. — Reuters