Bruce Lehrmann (file image)
Bruce Lehrmann could be ordered to pay millions in costs over his failed defamation lawsuit. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

‘No real winners’: Lehrmann to pay most of Ten’s costs

Emily Woods May 10, 2024

Bruce Lehrmann has been ordered to pay what will be a multimillion-dollar bill for Ten’s legal costs over his doomed defamation case against the network, as a judge declared there are “no real winners” in the case. 

The ex-Liberal staffer suffered a massive legal loss in April when the Federal Court found an allegation he raped Brittany Higgins in a Parliament House office in March 2019 was most likely true.

The 28-year-old had sued for defamation over a February 2021 report on Ten’s The Project, in which journalist Lisa Wilkinson interviewed Ms Higgins over the rape allegation.

Lisa Wilkinson and her lawyers (file image)
 Lehrmann was ordered to pay Ten and Lisa Wilkinson’s ordinary and indemnity costs. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

The parties have since been locked in a dispute over the legal costs and who should pay what is expected to amount to a sizeable legal bill for the long-running and high-profile case.

Justice Michael Lee on Friday found in favour of Ten’s application for indemnity costs for most of the trial.

“In the end, it comes down to the order for costs that best does overall justice in the circumstances,” he told the court.

“On balance, the appropriate exercise of discretion is to make an award that Network Ten recover its costs against Mr Lehrmann on an indemnity basis, except for costs incurred in relation to the statutory qualified privilege defence.”

Indemnity costs are higher than ordinary costs, which usually allow 50 to 60 per cent of the party’s legal costs to be recovered.

Bruce Lehrmann outside court
 Lehrmann’s costs bill will be decided in late May. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

In explaining his decision, the judge said Lehrmann had defended the criminal charge “on a false basis, lied to police, and then allowed that lie to go uncorrected before the jury”.

“He wrongly instructed his senior counsel to cross-examine a complainant of sexual assault, in two legal proceedings, including, relevantly for present purposes, this case, on a knowingly false premise,” he said.

Lehrmann denies he sexually assaulted Ms Higgins and was not convicted after a criminal trial was aborted.

Justice Lee noted “there are no real winners” in the case.

“Of course, with the predictability of an atomic clock, partisans have focused solely on those parts of the judgment that happen to align with preconceived notions,” he said.

“But the reality of mixed findings has also been somewhat obscured in the public statements of the respondents (Ten and Ms Wilkinson) and their submissions as to costs, which advance the assertion that they ‘won’ the litigation and that costs should axiomatically follow the event.”

He accused Ten’s lawyers for going on a “victory tour” after the judgment was delivered in April.

Ten lawyer Justin Quill (file image)
 Justin Quill had told journalists the judgment “vindicated” Ten. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Lawyer Justin Quill had told journalists outside court the judgment “vindicated” Ten.

The judge also ordered Lehrmann pay Ms Wilkinson’s costs and asked her to send her costs to Ten to identify what areas are in dispute. 

A referee will be appointed to examine whether the journalist could have avoided unnecessary costs in the way she ran her case.

Justice Lee did not allow Ten to recover the costs of preparing a series of affidavits as he said they did not assist him in making findings.

The total amount Lehrmann will have to pay will be determined at a hearing on May 27.

Earlier in the week, the court heard Lehrmann had no financial backers and his lawyers had agreed they did not need to be paid if he lost the case.

He has until May 31 to appeal the defamation case finding.

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