Lisa Wilkinson responds to Lehrmann defamation action
Bruce Lehrmann has accused two major news organisations of being "recklessly indifferent to the truth" for reporting rape allegations made by his former colleague Brittany Higgins, legal documents reveal.
Statements of claim for Mr Lehrmann filed in defamation action against Network Ten and News Life Media, the News Corp Australia company behind News.com.au, said his personal reputation had been "greatly injured" as a result of the allegations.
"(Mr Lehrmann) has been greatly injured in his personal and professional reputation and has been and will be brought into public disrepute," the statement said.
Channel 10 journalist Lisa Wilkinson has been named in the defamation action against the TV network for the February 2021 interview of Ms Higgins on The Project, while News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden has also been named in the suit against News Life Media.
In a written defence to the lawsuit, lawyers for Ms Wilkinson said they will aim to prove Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins in Parliament House as part of a truth defence.
The defence said Ms Wilkinson cannot admit Mr Lehrmann was reasonably identified by viewers of the story on The Project.
Ms Wilkinson did, however, admit "if Lehrmann was so reasonably identified by any viewer ... the first matter carried an imputation that Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins".
Ms Wilkinson's defence statement said she admitted the imputation Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins at Parliament House was defamatory.
Lawyers for the journalist said Mr Lehrmann was given multiple opportunities to respond before the interview was aired, including emails to his personal and work addresses, as well as text messages.
Ms Wilkinson said allegations of herself being "reckless" were baseless and unjustified.
Mr Lehrmann's legal team has asked for an extension for a one-year limitation for bringing on defamation claims, due to the interview with Ms Higgins being broadcast in 2021.
The TV journalist will also rely on a defence of statutory qualified privilege.
Documents detailing Ms Wilkinson's defence said fact-checking of claims made by Ms Higgins was carried out before the airing of the Project interview.
"At the conclusion of that fact checking and review of the matters by an experienced team of news and current affairs professionals, Wilkinson understood that there was a consensus amongst those persons and Wilkinson that Higgins was a credible witness," the documents said.
Mr Lehrmann's criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed in October because of juror misconduct and the prosecutor later dropped the charges due to the impact a second trial would have on Ms Higgins' mental health.
The ACT government has launched an independent inquiry into the handling of Ms Higgins' rape allegations by police, prosecutors and a victim's support service.