New trial date for alleged Higgins rapist

·3-min read

The trial for the man accused of raping Brittany Higgins has been set for October after a controversial Logies speech caused the hearing to be postponed.

Bruce Lehrmann was due to stand trial next Monday for a charge of sexual intercourse without consent, however a temporary stay was granted on Tuesday after comments by TV host Lisa Wilkinson reignited publicity surrounding the case.

Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum ruled it would be impossible to conduct a fair trial in light of the recent publicity stemming from Ms Wilkinson's speech, given that Ms Wilkinson was due to appear as a witness.

"The real concern ... was empanelling a jury with a list of witnesses that included Ms Wilkinson in a way where few people could fail to connect her name with success in publishing a true story," she told the court, referencing the journalist's Logie award for her interview with Ms Higgins.

Defence barrister Steve Whybrow pushed for the trial to begin at the start of 2023, telling the ACT Supreme Court the fallout from Ms Wilkinson's Logies speech would still impact a jury in October.

But the chief justice said a three-month stay in the case would allow for concerns to subside.

"A period of three months is a significant period where prejudice issues fade in the mind of potential jurors," she told the court.

"My assessment is that three months coupled with what I anticipate will be a dampening of the debate as a result of the judgement and communication I have received (from Network Ten and Ms Wilkinson) since, will be that the trial be conducted fairly."

Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold agreed with the revised timeline, saying the 102-day delay was consistent with other rulings where trials were delayed due to publicity.

He said he had received written undertakings from Network Ten and Ms Wilkinson, which were also sent to the chief justice, about public commentary on the allegations, and they appeared to be forthcoming.

He has also contacted the Australian Radio Network to seek a similar undertaking.

The chief justice said injunctions could be sought through the court if the media outlets were not forthcoming.

Any further applications would need to be filed by the close of business on Friday.

It comes after the Jonesy and Amanda show, whose radio station WSFM is owned by ARN, drew the ire of the chief justice for drawing a "direct extrapolation of guilt" from Ms Wilkinson's remarks on their show the following morning.

"Each of the radio presenters assumed the guilt of the accused (in their remarks)", she told the court on Tuesday when ruling to delay the trial.

Five potential books citing the case also raised concerns about further publicity in the subsequent hearing on Thursday.

Mr Drumgold will contact the authors, including journalists Sam Maiden, Niki Savva and Peter van Onselen, to ensure the books do not include commentary about the complainant. If so, publication of the works could be postponed until the trial is held.

Discussions around workplace culture at Parliament House might also be problematic, Chief Justice McCallum said.

"If the issue is the treatment of an allegation, it is very difficult to have that debate without commenting on inappropriate treatment on the assumed premise the allegation is true," she said.

"It would be a pretty thin book if you took out everything that is subjudice, that is, everything that is before this court."

An injunction on publications may be sought in the event the authors do not cooperate with prosecutors.

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