Lisa Wilkinson was warned her Logies speech could jeopardise a rape trial but went ahead with it anyway before her decision backfired spectacularly and the judge delayed the case.
Brittany Higgins’ accused rapist Bruce Lehrmann was granted a temporary stay in the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday after his lawyer said a jury trial would be ‘untenable’ following the reporting of The Project host’s winning speech.
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum told the court the journalist had previously sought advice on whether the speech was appropriate.
Ms Wilkinson met with the Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold on June 15 to discuss the evidence that she would give at the trial.
At the end of the meeting, Ms Wilkinson was asked if she had any questions and mentioned she had been nominated for a Logie award, according to a note of the meeting taken by the DPP.
Ms Wilkinson expressed that she did not think she would win because it was organised by a rival network but proceeded to read the speech she intended to give if victorious.
TV presenter Lisa Wilkinson (right) is pictured with former political staffer Brittany Higgins (left)
However, the DPP stopped her and advised that he had no power to approve or provide advice on the speech.
‘We are not speech editors,’ Mr Drumgold told Ms Wikinson.
Justice McCallum said Ms Wilkinson went ahead with her plans in spite of the warning.
‘Notwithstanding that clear and appropriate warning, upon receiving the award, Ms Wilkinson gave a speech in which she openly referred to and praised the complainant in the present trial,’ she said.
Justice Mc Callum said recent media publicity had prejudged Lehrmann’s right to a fair trial.
‘The case has accordingly attracted a level of attention in the media … that while not unprecedented, is certainly extreme,’ she said.
‘Extensive media reporting of alleged criminal conduct is not mischievous in itself.
‘What is a potential mischief is media reporting of such issues in such a way … it impacts the criminal case.’
Bruce Lehrmann (pictured), is charged with sexual intercourse without consent. He has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in Canberra
Justice McCallum says while jurors can be given directions to mitigate prejudice, this case was different with Wilkinson being a key witness.
No date has been set for the trial, but the judge said she wants the trial to be held this year, with an October listing probably providing enough time for publicity to dissipate.
Earlier, Justice McCallum slammed Ms Wilkinson’s speech, saying the line between an allegation and the finding of guilt was ‘completely obliterated’ by her Logies speech.
Wilkinson won a Logie for her reporting on Ms Higgins’ claim that she was raped in Parliament House.
Lehrmann, charged with sexual intercourse without consent, has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Ms Higgins.
‘Your honour, this speech did not need to be made,’ Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Whybrow launched the stay application following Wilkinson’s speech.
Mr Whybrow said a temporary stay – essentially, a delay – was the only recourse to allow for a fair trial so ‘adverse publicity can dissipate’.
TV presenter Lisa Wilkinson (left) is pictured with former political staffer Brittany Higgins (right)
‘It’s untenable in my submission for a trial to be held under these circumstances at this time,’ he said.
Justice McCallum slammed the media over its reporting of Wilkinson’s speech.
‘What concerns me most about this recent round is that the distinction between an allegation and a finding of guilt has been completely obliterated … on Sunday and Monday,’ she said.
‘The implicit premise of (Wilkinson’s speech) is to celebrate the truthfulness of the story she exposed.’
She added that Ms Higgins’ allegation had been bundled together in the minds of the public with the work of former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, despite a man having been convicted in Ms Tame’s case.
‘Grace Tame was talking about her experience after the man had been convicted and served a sentence of imprisonment,’ Justice McCallum said.
‘(Ms Tame’s) important contribution to the legal landscape was to say ‘the jury knows what he did, the public knows what he did, but I can’t talk about it because of the law that prohibits me outing myself’.
Former political staffer Brittany Higgins (pictured front) speaks to the media as she leaves the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices after meeting with then prime minister Scott Morrison in Sydney on Friday, April 30, 2021
‘Miss Higgins is treated as being in the same category. And she’s not,’ the judge said.
‘At the moment, she is not in that category. That’s what really troubles me about the last round.’
The Crown had opposed the temporary stay, arguing the application did not outline a significant enough risk to the jury that couldn’t be overcome by orders made by the judge.
‘The test most apt … is a real and substantial risk that despite endeavours by the trial judge there will be members of the jury that would have prejudged guilt perhaps unaware and that cannot be remedied,’ ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold told the court.
‘We accept there is a significant change but the application limited to what it is limited to does not give rise to a temporary stay.’
The Supreme Court was told Wilkinson would be called as a witness at the trial.
Justice Lucy McCallum said the public has conflated the case of Brittany Higgins (right) with the work of former Australian of the Year Grace Tame (left), despite a man having been convicted in Ms Tame’s case
On Monday, Mr Drumgold said the Logies speech was a ‘regurgitation’ of emotion, making the point that Ms Wilkinson had said similar things previously.
Justice McCallum said, in summary, Ms Wilkinson’s speech amounted to saying: ‘Not only do I believe her, but she’s brave and extraordinary and she’s the most important thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m proud of bringing forward her allegation …
‘We know that the accused has given a recorded interview in which he denies any sexual activity took place,’ she said.
A previous stay application was dismissed by Justice McCallum in April, when she said she wasn’t persuaded directions given to the jury couldn’t alleviate concerns of prejudice against Lehrmann.
Mr Drumgold argued the second application constituted ‘a re-agitation of that order’.
The case was initially due to begin on June 6 but was delayed until June 27 after Lehrmann’s barrister pulled out days before the trial.
Lisa Wilkinson is pictured giving her Logies speech on Sunday night, where she thanked Brittany Higgins for sharing her story of an alleged sexual assault