Australia’s worst-kept secret was exposed yesterday when the Queensland Supreme Court refused further non-publication orders regarding two rape charges against Bruce Lehrmann, previously identified only as a ‘high profile man’.
The ‘high profile man’ moniker stemmed from publicity surrounding the Brittany Higgins case.
The alleged rape of Brittany Higgins
In February 2021, Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged a colleague raped her in Federal Parliament House in 2019. The man offered her a lift in a cab after she became drunk at a work party. However, instead of dropping her home, he took her to Parliament House. She alleged he then raped her in the office of Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds as she slipped in and out of consciousness.
Lehrmann’s identity became known after Parliament House security staff said they let him and Brittany Higgins into the building on the night of the alleged rape. One of the guards later found Brittany naked and in foetal position on a couch in her boss’s office. Lehrmann had left Parliament House without her and denied the rape allegation.
After various delays, Bruce Lehrmann went on trial for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in October 2022. However, the trial was abandoned after the discovery of private research undertaken by one of the jurors.
The Public Prosecutor then abandoned a scheduled retrial out of concern for the mental health of Brittany Higgins. The case remained high profile because of subsequent legal action, and accusations about the role of high-profile politicians and journalists in the case.
The Toowoomba case
A few weeks after the Brittany Higgins rape case ended in Canberra, Bruce Lehrmann met an intoxicated female patron at a Toowoomba strip club who later alleged he raped her. Although he identified himself to her as ‘Bryce’, she later discovered his real name after talking to a friend’s mother about the Brittany Higgins case and searching the internet for a photo of Lehrmann.
High Profile Man
Queensland law did not previously allow the identification of people charged with proscribed sex offences until committed to trial. Media reports of multiple mentions of the case in the Toowoomba court identified Lehrmann only as a ‘high profile man’. But like the previous suppression order against reporting on the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for molesting two altar boys, Bruce Lehrmann’s identity became Australia’s worst-kept secret.
From October 3, changes to the Queensland law allowed the identification of people charged with sexual offences. However, Lehrmann’s defence team applied for the continued suppression of his identity, claiming the legal proceedings were impacting his mental health.
Lehrmann’s barrister told the Supreme Court yesterday that a psychologist’s report spoke of a risk of self-harm and suicide.
However, Robert Anderson KC, representing media outlets opposing the suppression order, pointed out that while Lehrmann had not at any stage given evidence before the court, he made multiple high-profile media appearances.
In his decision yesterday, Justice Applegarth made note of Lehrmann’s attitude and composure during those interviews.
“The evidence included the presentation of the applicant in media interviews and the fact that he made no mention in them of being in a poor psychological state for reasons he did not wish to disclose to the public. Instead, he presented to the public, for reasons that neither he, his solicitor nor his psychologist adequately explained to the magistrate, as someone who was keen to litigate pending defamation cases and ‘light some fires’.”
Next court mention
The two rape charges are next due for mention in the Toowoomba court on November 1.
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