A resurfaced tweet shows journalist Lisa Wilkinson warning others of “passing judgment” on the man accused of raping Brittany Higgins, before her own comments in her Logies speech led to the trial being delayed.
Lawyers for Bruce Lehrmann, who is accused of raping the former Liberal staffer in Parliament House, have succeeded in a second bid to temporarily delay his trial following Wilkinson’s speech.
On Sunday, the veteran journalist and host of The Project accepted the Logie for the Most Outstanding News Coverage or Public Affairs Report for her 2021 interview with Brittany Higgins.
Ms Higgins in the interview detailed publicly for the first time her version of events that transpired on the night of the alleged offence.
Mr Lehrmann, charged with sexual intercourse without consent, has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Ms Higgins.
A tweet from Wilkinson dated August 6, 2021, implored the public to be mindful of comments that could affect a trial. It was made as the accused was beginning to be identified on social media.
“On the issue of the 26 yo man summonsed for an alleged sexual assault of a woman in Parliament House in March 2019 can I implore everyone to respect what’s in play here,” the tweet read.
“Naming the man on social media and passing judgement could have dire consequences for the outcome of any trial.”
‘Extreme’ publicity diminishes fair trial
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum told the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday recent media publicity had prejudged Lehrmann's right to a fair trial, originally scheduled for next week.
"The case has accordingly attracted a level of attention in the media … that, while not unprecedented, is certainly extreme," the chief justice said on Tuesday, following the attention Wilkinson's Logies award shone on the case.
"Unfortunately the recent publicity in my view does change the landscape because of its immediacy, its intensity and its capacity to obliterate the important distinction between an allegation that remains untested at law, and one that has been accepted by a jury giving a true verdict."
Chief Justice McCallum says while jurors can be given directions to mitigate prejudice, this case was different with Wilkinson being a key witness.
She added she could not be satisfied any directions given to jurors during empanelment or after would avert such prejudice.
"Delay has a corrosive effect on evidence. It's expensive," Chief Justice McCallum said.
"(But) the overriding principle … is the requirement that the trial be fair.”
Wilkinson warned that speech could impact trial
The chief justice also read interview notes between Wilkinson and the Director of Public Prosecutions days before the Logie awards, where the journalist read aloud the first line of her prepared acceptance speech in case she won.
DPP Shane Drumgold told Wilkinson he had no authority to edit the speech but revived publicity could lead to the defence launching a renewed stay application.
Chief Justice McCallum added that the speech replayed on the Jonesy and Amanda radio show the next morning alongside comments made by the hosts were a "direct extrapolation of guilt" from Wilkinson's remarks.
Commentary following the speech "almost universally speculates the guilt of the accused", she said.
"The public at large has been given to believe guilt is established."
No date has been set for the trial, but Chief Justice McCallum says she wants the trial to be held this year, with an October listing likely providing enough time for publicity to dissipate.
Ms Higgins appeared to have deleted her Twitter and Instagram accounts on Tuesday.
- with AAP
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