26 April 2024

Our opinion on the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case

O'Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors


O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors defend people against criminal charges anywhere in Australia, as well as litigating defamation cases, and suing police and other authorities for unlawful conduct. We are a strong advocate for social justice issues and pride ourselves on our pro-bono practice. We are a growing and dynamic law firm that occasionally has vacancies for people seeking legal careers or administrative opportunities.
Defamation proceedings may result in the further destruction of the reputations that they are attempting to salvage.
Australia Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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Switch on Channel 7 News today, 16th of April, 2024, at 6pm to watch our Senior Defamation Solicitor, Stewart O'Connell, discuss the Bruce Lehrmann case.

Stewart O'Connell shared some of his opinion on the case, read it below.

While the Bruce Lehrmann case has been prominent in the media because of its "omnishambolic" nature, its political content, and the sordid details central to the case, it does not have a lot new to say about defamation law.

Bruce Lehrmann case

That said, this decision as well as the one in the Ben Roberts Smith defamation case, should act as significant warnings to those considering launching defamation proceedings in court. In both cases the defamation proceedings resulted in the further destruction of the reputations that they were attempting to salvage.

This is a real risk that we always stress to our clients. Sometimes it is better to try and limit the damage to reputation through other means than going to court. And if you are determined to go through court, then you had better be 100% confident that the other side cannot prove that the imputations are more probable than not. We always advise our clients as to alternatives to court and ensure that our clients are well aware as to the real extent of the risk if they continue through court.

In the Bruce Lehrmann case, the court found that it was more likely than not that Mr Lehrmann's state of mind was such that he was so was hell-bent on having sex with a woman he found sexually attractive, had been mutually passionately kissing and touching, had encouraged to drink and knew had reduced inhibitions because she was very drunk that he was indifferent to Ms Higgins' consent.

Court's decision

The court went on to say, "Mr Lehrmann behaved disgracefully. He defended the criminal charge on a false basis, lied to police, and then allowed that lie to go uncorrected before the jury. He instructed his unwitting and hence blameless senior counsel to cross-examine a complainant of sexual assault, in two legal proceedings, on a knowingly false premise".

It is hard to think of more catastrophic damage to a person's reputation than these remarks of the court, effectively branding Bruce Lehrmann a rapist and a liar.

The courts findings also serve as a general warning of the importance of being mindful of consent in all sexual activity, especially when alcohol is involved.

Lehrmann significance

The Bruce Lehrmann case also sends a powerful message as to the importance of a fair and independent media who respect the rule of law to the proper functioning of our society. The court found that Channel 10 had acted unreasonably in that their story was "insufficiently scrutinised and factually misconceived conjecture" and that its content and timing "did much collateral damage – including to the fair and orderly progress of the underlying allegation of sexual assault through the criminal justice system".

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