The ABC has reached a settlement with Bruce Lehrmann after he sued the national broadcaster and Channel Ten for defamation. 

Mr Lehrmann had sued the ABC for airing a National Press Club address by Brittany Higgins and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame

Justice Michael Lee told the Federal Court on Wednesday – the day the civil trial was due to begin – ‘a settlement has been agreed between the applicant and the ABC.’ 

Mr Lehrmann’s case against Channel 10 is set to proceed today. Former Project host Lisa Wilkinson was present in the courtroom.

The second matter Justice Lee dealt with on Wednesday morning was an application by Channel Ten to force journalists and members of the public to apply to gain access to the court’s livestream of the case.

He rejected the application and said the livestream was necessary in the interest of open justice.

Referring to an argument in Ten’s application against the livestream, the judge told the court: ‘There is a notion that mere embarrassment and stress should be a factor, but that is simply not the law.’

‘I am not convinced members of the public should only get access to a livestream if they fill in some sort of application.’

Brittany Higgins and fiancé David Sharaz are seen in Sydney on Tuesday

Brittany Higgins and fiancé David Sharaz are seen in Sydney on Tuesday

The defamation case is based on an interview on The Project in February 2021, when Ms Higgins alleged in an interview with Wilkinson that Mr Lehrmann raped her in Parliament House in 2019.

While he was not named, he claims friends and former colleagues were able to identify him as the alleged rapist.

He has continually maintained his innocence.

In his statement of claim, Mr Lehrmann says Ten was ‘recklessly indifferent to the truth or falsity’ of the allegations without giving him an opportunity to respond. 

However, it could become a pseudo rape trial with Wilkinson and Channel 10 seeking to prove Ms Higgins’ rape allegations are ‘substantially true’.

To win the case, they will have to prove the rape took place on the balance of probabilities – which means Justice Lee will have to determine whether the rape is more likely to have happened than not.

This differs from a criminal trial, where the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged incident did happen.

Wilkinson hired top defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC to represent her instead of using the lawyers supplied to her by Channel 10.

Along with a truth defence, Ten will claim Mr Lehrmann was not identified during the broadcast and that reasonable efforts were made to contact him prior to air.

Wilkinson’s team will argue that Ms Higgins’ allegations were a matter of public interest and that reporting it was appropriate, and that she put her faith in the producers of The Project to ensure the broadcast was a fair report.

Mr Lehrmann’s team plan to cross-examine Ms Higgins, Wilkinson, and Network 10 producer Angus Llewellyn. 

Mr Lehrmann was tried in the ACT Supreme Court in October last year but the hearing was vacated when a member of the jury brought banned research material into the court.

Shane Drumgold, the former ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, then dropped the sexual assault charge on December 2 due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health.

The following day, and after a single day of mediation, she won a compensation claim against the Commonwealth, which was worth up to $3million and included 40 years of lost wages, even though her allegations are unproven.

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