High-Profile Australian Parliament Rape Trial Aborted Completely

Prosecutor drops rape charge
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 27, 2022 1:29 AM CDT
Updated Dec 2, 2022 1:40 AM CST
High-Profile Australian Parliament Rape Trial Aborted Over Research Paper
Bruce Lehrmann, center, arrives at the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court in Canberra, Australia, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.   (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
UPDATE Dec 2, 2022 1:40 AM CST

An Australian prosecutor on Friday dropped the rape charge involving a woman who was allegedly assaulted in a parliamentary office after he determined that the stress of the trial would put her life at risk. Former government staffer Brittany Higgins alleges a more senior colleague, Bruce Lehrmann, raped her in a minister’s office after a night of heavy drinking in March 2019; he was to be retried in February 2023 after a mistrial was declared in October. Higgins was in a hospital receiving mental health treatment after the past “difficult and unrelenting” two years, her friend Emma Webster said in a media statement. Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold said he dropped the case based on medical evidence that a trial could cost Higgins’ her life, the AP reports. "While it’s disappointing the trial has ended this way, Brittany’s health and safety must always come first," Webster said.

Oct 27, 2022 1:29 AM CDT

A judge on Thursday discharged a jury in the high-profile trial of a former government adviser charged with raping a colleague in the Australian Parliament House because a juror had brought a research paper on sexual assaults into the jury room, the AP reports. Australian Capital Territory Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said a juror had undertaken research in relation to the case and brought it into the room where a panel of 12 had been deciding their verdict. “I have received evidence that at least one juror has had access to research material that was not provided to the jury during the trial,” McCallum said. “It is beyond question the conduct of a juror is such to abort the trial," she added. A court official had discovered the research paper in the room late Wednesday. The jury was supposed to reach its verdict solely on the evidence presented during the 12-day trial.

Former ministerial adviser Bruce Lehrmann, 27, had pleaded not guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent in a minister’s office in March 2019 after a night of heavy drinking. He faced a potential 12-year prison sentence if convicted. His alleged victim, then his 24-year-old junior colleague Brittany Higgins, reacted to the news of a mistrial with a searing attack on the justice system. “I chose to speak up. Speak up against rape, speak up against injustice, to speak up and share my experiences with others. I told the truth no matter how uncomfortable or unflattering to the court,” a tearful Higgins told reporters outside court. “Today’s outcome does not change that truth. But I did speak up, I never fully understood how asymmetrical (the) criminal justice system (is), but I do now,” she added.

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She recounted how she was questioned for days in the witness box and forced to surrender her telephones, messages, photos and data to Lehrmann’s lawyers. Lehrmann exercised his right not to give evidence. His lawyers argued there had been no sexual contact. “My life has been publicly scrutinized, open for the world to see. His was not,” Higgins added. Lehrmann declined to speak to the media as he left the court. He has not been held in custody since he was charged and remains free on bail until Feb. 20 when a retrial could commence. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether a retrial will go ahead. The jury had been deliberating its verdict since the trial ended on Wednesday last week. The jurors sent a message to the judge on Tuesday saying they could not reach a unanimous verdict, but she told them to continue deliberating. (Read more Australia stories.)

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