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Twist after Higgins peace talks stumble

Brittany Higgins returned from France with fiance David Sharaz as the pair entered mediation with Senator Linda Reynolds. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Brittany Higgins returned from France with fiance David Sharaz as the pair entered mediation with Senator Linda Reynolds. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

Several hours of forced mediation talks in private have so far failed to resolve a defamation case brought by Senator Linda Reynolds against her former staffer Brittany Higgins and her fiance David Sharaz — but all hope is not yet lost.

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 merely been adjourned.

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.

Peace talks appear to have stalled. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Peace talks appear to have stalled. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

Senator Reynolds is suing the couple individually for defamation over comments they each made on social media.

Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz, who relocated to France late last year, travelled to Perth for face-to-face mediation in private.

It was hoped the mediation could resolve their legal dispute and avoid an arduous trial.

But just before 7pm on Tuesday night — long after the court building had closed — both parties left without a resolution.

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.

Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz did not comment as they left.

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

Upon her arrival at court on Tuesday morning, Ms Higgins said she believed everyone was eager to resolve the matters in good faith, but that she had mixed emotions about returning to WA.

“It’s a difficult place to come back to,” she 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.”

Tuesday marked Ms Higgins’ first visit back to Perth since the lead-up to the federal election in 2019 — months after she alleged she was raped by fellow Canberra staffer Bruce Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds’ office, a claim Mr Lehrmann vehemently denies.

Linda Reynolds launched legal proceedings against Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz in the WA Supreme Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
Linda Reynolds launched legal proceedings against Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz in the WA Supreme Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

Senator Reynolds launched legal proceedings against Ms Higgins, claiming her ex-employee defamed her in two social media posts in July last year.

She also accused Ms Higgins of breaching a non-disparagement clause in a deed of settlement and release they signed in March 2021.

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

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

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, which she says are false.

David Sharaz is also participating in the mediation, having also had defamation claims made against him by Senator Reynolds. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith
David Sharaz is also participating in the mediation, having also had defamation claims made against him by Senator Reynolds. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith

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

Among the alleged false and 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, has been mediating the case alongside registrar Danielle Davies.