The trial of a man accused of sexually assaulting Brittany Higgins inside Parliament has been delayed following an “ill-advised” Logie Awards speech by Lisa Wilkinson.
The media personality was revealed to have given her speech on Sunday despite being warned that public comments about the upcoming rape case could lead to the trial being postponed.
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Bruce Lehrmann is accused of sexually assaulting Liberal Party colleague Higgins in an office in Parliament in 2019.
He was due to stand trial next week in the ACT Supreme Court over the alleged rape.
He pleaded not guilty.
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum told the court on Tuesday that recent media publicity prejudiced Lehrmann’s right to a fair trial.
“The case has therefore attracted a level of media attention … which, while not unprecedented, is certainly extreme,” the chief justice said on Tuesday.
“Many media reports of alleged criminal behavior are not inherently malicious.
“What is potential harm is for the media to report such issues in such a way…it impacts the criminal case.”
Judge McCallum told the court she canceled the trial dates “with gritted teeth” after Lehrmann’s defense team requested a temporary stay following Wilkinson’s speech and surrounding publicity.
“Unfortunately, however, the recent publicity (of the speech) is, in my view, changing the landscape,” she said.
“Because of its immediacy, intensity and ability to erase the important distinction between an allegation that is unverified in law.
“For these reasons, unfortunately and with gritted teeth, I have concluded that the June 27 trial date to which the parties have carefully moved must be set aside.”
Judge McCallum told the court that Wilkinson spoke with Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold on June 15 to discuss the evidence she would give at trial.
At that meeting, Wilkinson said she was nominated for a Logie for her reporting on Higgins’ allegation on The project Last year.
The TV star has been warned not to comment publicly on Higgins’ case as it could delay the trial.
Despite the warning, Wilkinson took to the stage after winning the award for most outstanding media coverage or public affairs report.
Judge McCallum told the court on Tuesday that the speech and the publicity that followed it left her with no choice but to delay the trial.
“Notwithstanding this clear and appropriate warning, after receiving the award, Ms. Wilkinson gave a speech in which she openly referred to and congratulated the plaintiff in this trial,” Judge McCallum said.
“Unsurprisingly, the price and content of the speech were subject to additional comment.”
Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech could be investigated
Australian Bar Association president Matthew Collins said Wilkinson could be investigated and could face legal consequences following his speech.
This could include contempt of court charges.
“It is certainly possible that the authorities will examine the speech she gave before the Logies and assess that speech against the standard that applies in this branch of law,” the lawyer said. Sunrise Wednesday.
“That standard is, did anything she did tend to interfere with the administration of justice?”
Watch Collins’ interview with Sunrise in the video player below.
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Collins said Wilkinson’s speech was “misguided” and a media veteran should have known better.
“You hope that whenever the media consider publishing a story about a serious criminal trial that is about to begin, they will be aware of the potential risks,” he added.
“The mainstream media understands the risk inherent in reporting on cases that are about to go to trial, especially serious and high-profile cases.
“So it was clearly misguided.
“The concern is that potential jury members whose job it is to apply the presumption of innocence and focus on the evidence at trial could be influenced by things they have been exposed to in the media and on social media. .”
A new hearing will be held Thursday to determine when a new trial date can be set.
Lehrmann’s defense team said they want the trial to take place at a fair time for their client.
“The delay in the current trial will not help anyone,” said Lehrmann’s attorney, Steve Whybrow.
“[Lehrmann] has no interest in delaying the trial but he wants it to be a fair trial.
Judge McCallum said the extensive publicity had now ‘blurred’ the distinction between an allegation and a guilty verdict.
“The general public is led to believe that guilt is established. The importance of the rule of law has been reduced to nothing.
She told the court that while jurors may be given instructions to mitigate harm, this case was different, with Wilkinson being a key witness.
A spokeswoman for Network 10 acknowledged the judge’s decision in a statement released on Tuesday.
“Both Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson take their legal obligations very seriously, including in the preparation and delivery of her speech at the Logies event,” the spokeswoman said.
“In light of the ongoing proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
– With PAA