‘Trashed the concept of a fair trial’: Lehrmann defence implored DPP to stop Press Club speech

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A lawyer who acted for Bruce Lehrmann has told an inquiry into the former Coalition staffer’s abandoned rape case that the prosecutor, Shane Drumgold SC, “mockingly” discarded his concern about Brittany Higgins speaking at the National Press Club in the months before the trial.

John Korn, who represented Lehrmann in early 2022, said in a written statement tendered and published on the inquiry’s website that he had asked Drumgold in a phone call the week of Higgins’ speech whether he could “invite Ms Higgins not to speak on the podium this week”.

Brittany Higgins spoke at the National Press Club last year.Credit: James Brickwood

Korn said Drumgold responded, “no, why would we do that?” to which Korn replied, “from what I understand, she will be standing on the podium speaking as a survivor of sexual assault, for a matter which has not yet been determined to have taken place, in circumstances where my client denies that any sexual intercourse ever took place”.

According to the statement, Drumgold then replied, “oh, no, no, no, that’s not the way I see it”.

“That was said in a mocking tone that I thought was very inappropriate, so I responded in a somewhat inappropriate way and said, ‘Mr Director, I don’t give a f— how you see it, but every right-minded person in Australia, including me, would see it that way, and she should not speak on that podium from that perspective’.”

Korn said in the statement he again asked Drumgold to dissuade Higgins from speaking at the Press Club, to which the latter allegedly replied, “no, I don’t propose to do that. She has been appropriately warned not to give any details of the offence”.

Higgins delivered the speech alongside former Australian of the Year Grace Tame. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The defence lawyer went on to say in the tendered statement that, “with the greatest of respect to Ms Higgins, her active media campaign already trashed the concept of a fair trial and allowing her to go on the podium as a survivor of a sexual assault with the trial coming up is something that the Director had a responsibility to try and actively prevent”.

Higgins shared the stage with former Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor Grace Tame during the February 9 address, during which the former explained said she spoke out publicly about her allegation of sexual assault because she did not want to be part of parliament’s culture of silence.

“I spoke out because I wanted the next generation of staffers to work in a better place. To take up a dream job like I did. And for it to live up to their hopes and not betray them,” she said at the time.

Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Higgins in the Parliament House office of former Coalition government minister Linda Reynolds, for whom the pair both worked, after a night drinking with colleagues in March 2019.

The trial was aborted in October 2022 due to juror misconduct, and a retrial was abandoned due to Drumgold’s fears over Higgins’ mental health.

The ACT government announced the inquiry into the conduct and competence of the criminal justice agencies involved in the case after a public breakdown in the relationship between the DPP and the ACT police.

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