The Bruce Lehrmann plot thickens as News Corp journalists claim to have obtained confidential information regarding new accusations against the alleged rapist, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape
ON THURSDAY 25 October 2023, Bruce Lehrmann was named as the alleged perpetrator in the matter of two alleged rapes in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Lehrmann’s lawyers argued for their client’s ongoing anonymity, however, this request was denied by Justice Peter Applegarth largely on the grounds that Bruce had invalidated his own argument by appearing on several television shows.
The rape allegedly occurred in the Parliament House office of then L-NP Minister Linda Reynolds.
The Toowoomba rapes allegedly occurred in October 2021 after Lehrmann had been charged in August 2021 with raping Ms Higgins. Lehrmann denied the charge.
On 27 October 2023, the Daily Mail published an article headlined:
‘Full details of rape accusations against Bruce Lehrmann after meeting alleged victim at a Toowoomba strip club — and when she came forward.’
Journalist Kylie Stevens attributes as her source a court brief she states was ‘obtained exclusively by The Australian’:
‘According to a court brief obtained exclusively by The Australian newspaper, the pair used cocaine during the night.’
The Australian headline made no bones about its source:
Cocaine, unprotected sex: Police brief reveals new charges.
Details of allegations against former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann can be revealed after a Queensland court lifted a suppression order that has protected his identity.
These are the Queensland Police regulations for access to a court brief:
A copy of a Court Brief (QP 9) can be obtained by a member of the public where that document contains information about that person or relates to the exercise of a right that may be available to the person (e.g. criminal injury compensation). Usually, only the victim or their authorised legal representative will be provided with a copy.
A QP 9 is provided only where the court proceedings have been finalised and the appeal period (if applicable) has expired. Confidential or privileged material may be excluded from this document.
A person wishing to apply for a QP 9 must make a payment through the QPS Legal BPOINT Payment Page and then send an email request to the Manager, Police Information Centre, providing:
- Full name (including any previous names)
- Date of birth
- Photo of sufficient identification (e.g. current driver licence, passport or other photographic identity document)
- Specification of charges
Note that the brief is provided to approved persons only when court proceedings have been finalised and that confidential or privileged material may be excluded.
None of the conditions required in the regulations are fulfilled by The Australian.
Lehrmann has not yet faced committal proceedings, let alone a trial.
Was the brief provided to The Australian unredacted? And by whom?
Are News Corp journalists in possession of confidential or privileged information about this case that will not be used in court, should the matter proceed to trial?
This is the second time a police brief concerning Lehrmann has mysteriously found its way to the wrong address.
In the aborted A.C.T. matter, an unredacted police brief was “accidentally” sent by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to Lehrmann’s lawyers. The brief contained Ms Higgins’ counselling notes and a recorded interview.
As reported in the Australian Financial Review:
‘A.C.T. Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold said he was “shocked” the Australian Federal Police had served an unredacted brief of evidence before a plea and that he had never seen it before, adding there were additional concerns with it being a sexual assault brief.’
Mr Drumgold generously told a subsequent inquiry into how the A.C.T.’s justice system handled the rape allegations against Lehrmann that he believed serving the documents to the defence was ‘inadvertent rather than deliberate’.
How many leaks concerning the same accused can be considered inadvertent rather than deliberate?
The Australian journalist, Ellie Dudley, has been given the opportunity by someone who has access to the court brief to cherry-pick witness statements and other material contained in the brief and publish the results of her foray. Neither the alleged victim nor the accused can contest Ms Dudley’s cherry-picked account.
Should the matter not proceed to trial, no member of the public has any right to knowledge of the brief at all, let alone what might have been redacted.
Then there is the very peculiar matter of Judge Walter Sofronoff deciding to send his report into the first prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann to, yes... Janet Albrechtsen. Sofronoff’s report was published by that journalist before it was provided to the A.C.T. Government who had commissioned the Inquiry. Legal proceedings have been launched against Sofronoff’s findings by former A.C.T. DPP Shane Drumgold, claiming many were “invalid” and “legally unreasonable”.
The litany of bizarre events surrounding Bruce Lehrmann’s A.C.T. trial and the lead-up to that event, culminating in a juror defying the judge’s order not to introduce their own research – research that was apparently discovered in the jury room by a sheriff’s officer tidying up one night – could not, it seemed for a while, be bested.
The Guardian reported in 2022:
‘The paper was discovered accidentally by a sheriff’s officer during routine tidying of the jury room. The sheriff’s officer bumped one of the juror’s plastic folders and noticed the title page of a research paper among the papers.’
However, the Toowoomba events so far promise a continuation of “believe it or not” moments.
The whole sordid story should greatly alarm us. It serves only to undermine any faith we might have in our legal system. It demonstrates the vulnerability of the system to corruption and the power of the News Corp to control much of the narrative surrounding the Lehrmann cases. There is clearly a disturbing willingness in the legal system to collude with the Murdoch media.
Anyone in possession of a court brief who does not meet the requirements for access is putting the process at risk. It is extremely disturbing that there are people in the system prepared to leak court documents and in so doing, risk the outcome of a sexual assault trial.
It’s equally disturbing that there are people who, knowing the risk they are taking with the lives of others, are prepared to either solicit or accept offered court briefs to which they have no legal right and with which they can do nothing good.
If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
- EDITORIAL: News Corp vultures exploit legal system to control Lehrmann story
- Bruce Lehrmann inquiry exposes biases bungles and blaming
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