Bruce Lehrmann defamation case judgement being handed down

The judgement in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson will be handed down by Justice Michael Lee this morning.

The case was reopened earlier this month after former senior producer on Channel 7’s Spotlight program, Taylor Auerbach, made explosive claims about the network’s dealings with Mr Lehrmann before he agreed to an exclusive, tell-all interview with the program.

Follow our live coverage below for the latest updates.

Judgement resumes after technical issues

Justice Lee has resumed his judgment at 10.53am quipping that he was worried they were going to have to call back the lip reader.

“I think I got up to the point where I said omnishambles,” he said.

“I was going to ask you, Dr. Collins. Perhaps we should recall Mr Reedy, that the lip reader.

Justice Lee said that he had not written his judgment for people who had already made up their minds, regardless of the facts

“An astute observer would have gleaned from the trial that this case is not as straightforward as some commentary might suggest,” he said.

“In part, this is because the primary defence hinges on the truth of an allegation of sexual assault behind closed doors.

“Only one man and one woman know the truth with certitude.

Some, he said, had “a Rorschach test-like response to this controversy and fastened doggedly upon the truth as they perceive it.”

“Their responses are visceral because the truth is revealed and be claimed rather than proven and explained.

“Some jumped to predetermined conclusions because they are disposed to be sceptical about complaints of sexual assault, and hold stereotype beliefs about the expected behaviour of rape victims described by social scientists as rape myths,” Justice Lee said.

“Others say they believe all women, surrendering their critical faculties.”

Lehrmann a poor witness, Brittany Higgins evidence unsatisfactory

“To remark that Mr Lehrmann is a poor witness, is an exercise of understatement, “ Justice Lee said.

“His attachment to the truth was a tenuous one informed not by faithfulness to his affirmation, but by fashioning his responses in what he perceived to be his forensic interests.

“Ms Brittany Higgins …was also an unsatisfactory witness.

Cover up claims

“As we will see, when examined properly and without partiality, the cover up allegation was objectively short on facts, but long on speculation and internal inconsistencies,” Justice Lee said.

“It (was) like trying to grab a column of smoke.

“But despite its logical and evidentiary flaws, (Ms) Higgins boyfriend selected and then contacted two journalists and in the sequence advanced her account to them and through them to others.

“From the first moment the cover up component was promoted and recognised as the most important part of that narrative, the various controversies traceable to its publication resulted in the legal challenge of determining what happened late one night in 2019, becoming much more difficult than otherwise would be the case.”

Court hit with technical difficulties

Court has been adjourned briefly due to audio issues with the Federal Court’s YouTube stream.

Shortly after Justice Lee began speaking the audio on the stream cut out.

He has decided to restart his judgement after the YouTube link was muted for thousands of people who logged on to watch.

“We have experienced some technical difficulties. Will advise re a resumption,’’ a Federal Court spokesman said.

Justice Lee had started delivering his judgement, revealing that the final judgement is 324 pages long. It will be published on the federal court website immediately.

“But given the public interest in the case I intend to attempt to provide an oral overview of my findings,’’ he said.

“It is a singular case, the underlying controversy has become a cause célèbre. It might be more fitting to describe it as an omnishambles.”

After making that pronouncement, the Federal Court YouTube link, being watched by 30,000 people, went mute.

‘Unreliable historians’

Before he suspended the hearing due to technical issues, Justice Lee observed that, regarding the allegations, only “one man and one woman know the truth with certitude” but he suggested the key witnesses in the trial are “unreliable historians”.

“For more than a few this has become a proxy for broader cultural and political conflicts,” Justice Lee said.

“An astute observer would have gleaned from the trial this case is not as straightforward as some might suggest.

“Only one man and one woman know the truth with certitude,” but he added that in this case there were “two people who are both in different ways unreliable historians”.

“People give unreliable evidence for various reasons and distinguishing between a false memory and a lie can be difficult.”

Lehrmann arrives in court

Earlier this morning, litigant Bruce Lehrmann arrived at court for judgment day wearing a black suit and RM Williams boots accompanied by his barrister Steve Whybrow SC.

A grim-faced Mr Lehrmann made his way through a scrum of reporters towards the courtroom as more than 29,000 Australians logged on to YouTube for the verdict.

The Project presenter Lisa Wilkinson arrived in an all-white trouser suit accompanied by her lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC.

Also in attendance was Brittany Higgins barrister Nicholas Owens SC and Network Ten barrister Matthew Collins KC.

Allegations of cocaine and sex workers

During the trial, Auerbach outlined what he said happened when he attended the Meriton in Sydney’s CBD in January, 2023, at a time when he was “building rapport” with Mr Lehrmann in the hope of securing an exclusive interview with him for Spotlight.

He said that over dinner, the ex-Liberal staffer had purchased a bag of cocaine.

“When we got upstairs to the room, (Lehrmann) pulled it out and started to put it on a plate and then started talking to me about a prospective Spotlight story and his desire to order prostitutes to the Meriton that night and began googling series of websites to try and make that happen,’’ Auerbach said.

“And during that conversation he agreed to be in a Spotlight interview, as long as we didn’t ask him about what happened on the night in Canberra.”

Auerbach told the court he told Mr Lehrmann he didn’t have the money to pay for the drugs or sex workers at the night at the Meriton. He told the court Mr Lehrmann said he would pay.

The producer said he contacted his boss, Spotlight senior producer Steve Jackson and said he was worried given the previous events with the Thai masseuse.

Auerbach said he recalled texting Jackson that “Bruce was on the warpath again”.

“This is f*cked,’’ he said.

Lehrmann ‘spiralled’ the night Project aired

Mr Lehrmann revealed during the trial that he “spiralled” and turned to cocaine on the night The Project interview with Ms Higgins aired telling mates “need bags”.

The revelation first emerged during the initial hearings in March after Mr Lehrmann was subpoenaed for his phone and the Federal Court then published some messages between Mr Lehrmann and his ex-friend John Macgowan.

But Mr Lehrmann himself didn’t get asked about the exchange until November when Ten’s barrister Matt Collins KC asked Mr Lehrmann if he was talking about cocaine in the messages.

“I was in a bad place,’’ Mr Lehrmann said.

“You decided to spend some time that night with some friends and that substance,’’ Dr Collins asked.

“Yes, Dr Collins. I spiralled pretty quickly,’’ Mr Lehrmann replied.

The barrister for Ten then asked if he asked for friends to bring drugs.

“Sorry. Your reaction to spiralling was to ask for cocaine to be … to have cocaine brought to you?”

Mr Lehrmann: “I was in a bad place. Yes.”

Lehrmann’s $100k rent deal with Channel 7’s Spotlight

Court documents revealed Mr Lehrmann’s “confidential” Seven deal initially included an agreement to pay thousands of dollars in rent — for a year — in exchange for his exclusive interview with Liam Bartlett and Spotlight.

However, the deal was “confidential” and dependent on him not providing interviews or documents to other media outlets.

Under the agreement, Mr Lehrmann also agreed to provide “all information, documents, video and photographs” reasonably requested by Seven.

However, Mr Lehrmann told the Federal Court he did not do this and only provided an interview.

Over the period of the contract, the deal would be worth $100,000 in exchange for his two sit-down interviews.

The signed agreement was executed in April, 2021, prior to Seven insisting “no one was paid” for the interview but that some accommodation was provided during filming.

A rental invoice, dated 7 June, 2023, from L’Abode Accommodation Specialist, outlines an agreement between 13 April, 2023 and 12 April, 2024.