ABC paid $150,000 to settle Lehrmann defamation claim

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The ABC paid $150,000 to settle Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case over a National Press Club broadcast, documents tendered in his Federal Court defamation case against Network Ten reveal.

The former federal Liberal political staffer filed Federal Court defamation proceedings against the national broadcaster in April over a National Press Club address by his former colleague Brittany Higgins on February 9 last year, which was televised by the ABC and a related YouTube video.

Bruce Lehrmann outside the Federal Court in Sydney on Tuesday.Credit: Kate Geraghty

The case was due to be heard alongside Lehrmann’s defamation trial against Ten over an interview with Higgins broadcast on The Project on February 15, 2021.

On the first day of the Ten trial, the court heard Lehrmann had discontinued his action against the ABC after the parties reached an out-of-court settlement.

A deed of settlement and release, tendered in evidence in the Ten case and released by the Federal Court on Wednesday, reveals the ABC agreed to pay a total of $150,000, including $143,000 as a contribution to Lehrmann’s legal costs.

The broadcaster agreed to pay a further $7000 to solicitors acting for the ABC’s Laura Tingle, the National Press Club president, to cover the costs incurred by Lehrmann relating to Tingle’s compliance with a subpoena to produce documents in the case.

As part of the deed, Lehrmann warranted that the settlement sum was “less than his actual legal costs” of the proceedings.

The ABC further agreed to publish a statement on its corrections and clarifications page; not to reinstate the YouTube video, which was removed on April 6; and to remove a Facebook video.

“The parties acknowledge and agree that the ABC makes no admission of liability,” the deed, signed on November 21, says.

Lehrmann had alleged the National Press Club broadcasts conveyed the defamatory meaning that he “raped Brittany Higgins on a couch in Parliament House”. He has strenuously denied the sexual assault allegation.

The ABC lawsuit was the third filed by Lehrmann, who was also suing News Life Media, the News Corp company behind, over an interview with Higgins published on February 15, 2021. The News Corp case was settled in May.

Sexual assault denied

Lehrmann has denied sexually assaulting Higgins in Reynolds’ office in the early hours of March 23, 2019, and has told the court that there was no sexual contact between the pair at any stage.

Lehrmann’s ACT Supreme Court trial for sexual assault was aborted last year due to juror misconduct. The charge against Lehrmann was later dropped altogether owing to concerns about Higgins’ mental health. He has always maintained his innocence.

The Ten case

Lehrmann is suing Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over an interview with Higgins, aired on The Project on February 15, 2021, that he alleges wrongly accuses him of sexually assaulting Higgins. He was not named in the broadcast and a preliminary issue in the case is whether he was identified via other means.

If the court finds he was identified, Ten and Wilkinson are seeking to rely on a range of defences including truth, which would require the court to be satisfied to the civil standard – on the balance of probabilities – that he raped Higgins. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove a person is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

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