Advertisement

How Higgins’ face off with senator fell apart

Brittany Higgins arriving at the WA Supreme Court on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Brittany Higgins arriving at the WA Supreme Court on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

It was hoped this week that a court showdown involving Senator Linda Reynolds against her former staffer Brittany Higgins and her fiance David Sharaz would resolve their defamation dispute.

But after a marathon mediation session in private that spanned several hours on Tuesday, there was still no outcome on the case.

Mr Sharaz and Ms Higgins were forced to return to Australia from their new life in France to face Senator Reynolds in person, but the outgoing politician reportedly chose to sit in a separate room during the mediation talks.

Brittany Higgins was forced to return to Australia from France for mediation. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Brittany Higgins was forced to return to Australia from France for mediation. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

Ms Higgins had arrived at the WA Supreme Court on Tuesday morning in a positive mood, ready to make her way through the media scrum and face her ex-boss for the forced mediation.

Wearing a $1300 cornflower blue buttoned Ahana Dress from London designer Beulah — whose slogan is “fighting slavery through fashion” — Ms Higgins smiled and exchanged pleasantries with the media.

The dress was the same one worn by Princess Kate when the royal opened the Young V&A museum of childhood in London last year, except the princess wore a light pink version.

Alongside Ms Higgins was Mr Sharaz, who was equally well-dressed in high-end fashion, including a light blue shirt and cream blazer, complemented with a $200 Ralph Lauren silk knit tie.

David Sharaz wore a $200 Ralph Lauren silk knit tie. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
David Sharaz wore a $200 Ralph Lauren silk knit tie. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

Ms Higgins said she believed everyone was eager to resolve the matters in good faith, but she had mixed emotions about her return to WA.

It was Ms Higgins’ first visit back to Perth since she worked in the state in the lead-up to the federal election in 2019 — shortly after she alleged she was raped by fellow Canberra staffer Bruce Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds’ office — a claim that Mr Lehrmann strongly denies.

“It’s a difficult place to come back to,” Ms Higgins told reporters.

“It’s beautiful, but just personally it’s hard being back in Perth.

“I think everyone is acting in good faith trying to get an outcome.”

While that may have been true, the day did not exactly go to plan.

Both sides were locked away from about 10am until almost 7pm — not even leaving the building for lunch, which was instead brought up to them.

By the time the parties finally emerged in the evening, the building had long been closed and security staff had vacated.

Linda Reynolds walked hand-in-hand with her husband. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Linda Reynolds walked hand-in-hand with her husband. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz did not comment to the waiting media.

Meanwhile, Senator Reynolds — who was accompanied by her husband Robert Reid, holding hands as they arrived in the morning — spoke only briefly at the end of the long day.

Senator Reynolds told waiting media the talks were “ongoing”.

“It’s still ongoing so it’s not appropriate for me to comment on it yet,” she said.

Senator Reynolds launched legal proceedings against Ms Higgins, claiming her ex-employee defamed her in two social media posts in July last year, breaching a non-disparagement clause in a deed of settlement they signed in March 2021.

Their dispute stems from allegations Ms Higgins made that she was raped Mr Lehrmann.

A trial against Mr Lehrmann was aborted following juror misconduct, then a retrial was dumped due to fears for Ms Higgins’ mental health, leading to the charge being dropped.

Mr Lehrmann has always vehemently denied Ms Higgins’ claim.

Ms Higgins said she had mixed emotions about her return to WA. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Ms Higgins said she had mixed emotions about her return to WA. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

In one social media post, Ms Higgins said Senator Reynolds continued “to harass me through the media and in the parliament”.

Senator Reynolds claims she suffered loss and damage as a result of the posts.

The Senator also began legal action against Mr Sharaz, claiming he defamed her in five social media posts in December 2022 and January 2023.

Among the defamatory imputations claimed against Mr Sharaz’s posts were that Senator Reynolds pressured Ms Higgins not to proceed with a complaint to police, “is a hypocrite in her advocacy for women’s interests and empowerment”, and interfered in Mr Lehrmann’s trial.

Justice Marcus Solomon, who has repeatedly called for the two matters to be dealt with via mediation rather than a trial, mediated the case on Tuesday alongside registrar Danielle Davies.

Justice Solomon warned in a previous hearing that the “human cost of litigation” loomed large.

Senator Reynolds claims she suffered loss and damage as a result of the social media posts. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Senator Reynolds claims she suffered loss and damage as a result of the social media posts. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

The parties were due to face each other for a second consecutive day in the WA Supreme Court on Wednesday — this time for a strategic conference, which would have been open to the media — but a court spokeswoman confirmed the matter had been vacated.

There were initially no future court dates listed, prompting speculation a trial was looking more likely.

But late on Wednesday, a court spokeswoman confirmed the mediation process had been adjourned and would be rescheduled.

Mediation will resume “in due course and it is proposed that the matter be listed for (a) directions” hearing within weeks, according to the spokeswoman.

Senator Reynolds, who was awarded $90,000 by the ACT Government last Monday in a separate action, has also secured an undisclosed legal settlement from HarperCollins over Aaron Patrick’s book Ego.