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Debacle after Bruce Lehrmann charges dropped

Posted on Categories Criminal law, Defamation, Legal profession Tags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Debacle after Bruce Lehrmann charges dropped

 

Bruce Lehrmann, the former parliamentary political staffer who was accused of raping a colleague named Brittany Higgins at Parliament House has had all charges dropped again him.

This occurred after the trial had to be postponed because Lisa Wilkinson gave a speech at The Logie Awards, and when the trial finally took place, the jury had to be discharged because of juror misconduct.

Aftermath

It has since been revealed that the most senior police officer on the Brittany Higgins case, ACT Police Manager of Criminal Investigations, Detective Superintendent Scott Moller believed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Bruce Lehrmann but could not stop the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions from proceeding because “there is too much political interference”.

Lehrmann is reportedly contemplating civil action for alleged defamation and unfair dismissal after the charges were dropped, including against the ABC.

Sydney defamation specialist Mark O’Brien is working with  Lehrmann in consideration of legal action. Furthermore, a letter to the trial judge from Channel 10 boss Beverley McGarvey, obtained by The Australian, reveals Wilkinson disputes claims by DPP Director Shane Drumgold SC that he had warned her that her planned Logies speech could cause a substantial delay in the trial.

Janet Albrechtsen is absolutely scathing:

The decision by ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold to withdraw the sexual assault charge against Bruce Lehrmann due to the mental health of Brittany Higgins is too late and too little.

In that order. Too late because the DPP should have decided not to prosecute Lehrmann in the first place. Too little because Drumgold should have made that earlier decision for two reasons: the inconsistency and lack of evidence, and the mental health of Higgins.

After all, as revealed on Saturday by The Weekend Australian, the most senior Australian Federal Police officers involved in the investigation gave precisely those reasons in a report and in a conversation with the DPP explaining their view there should never have been a prosecution at all…

The aborted trial confirmed the serious inconsistencies in Higgins’s evidence. These included claims about what she did with the dress she wore the night of the alleged rape; about whether she or her boyfriend, David Sharaz, forwarded a dossier about the allegation to journalists before she went to police; inconsistent evidence about bruises to her leg and about the fact she had deleted material from her phone, including texts she sent to a Parliament House security guard the morning after the alleged rape. In the end, there was no forensic evidence of a rape. There was no objective evidence that sex happened, consensual or otherwise.

The AFP material and the way the case proceeded raise serious questions about the DPP’s judgment. Not merely that Drumgold began this case against strong police advice in the first place but about the fact that even now, in his Friday statement, his aim seemed to be to protect Higgins from further public scrutiny, which invariably includes criticism. Drumgold’s focus on the bravery of Higgins, when there has been no finding of guilt, is especially troubling. Higgins’s allegation remains just that – an allegation.

Most recently, a leading Canberra criminal lawyer has called for the resignation of Drumgold SC over the affair. Peter Woodhouse, the managing partner of Aulich Lawyers, said an investigation by the Integrity Commission was needed after the revelations by that police believed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Lehrmann, but could not stop the DPP from doing so because “there is too much political interference”.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, this criminal matter was politicised from the start, with Higgins going to the media first and the police second. Political considerations such as the #metoo trend that began about 3 years ago thereafter predominated, and the presumption of innocence was routinely trashed by media figures.

Ultimately, the politicisation of this case only caused harm to all involved. The effect that the trial has had on Higgins’ mental health has been so detrimental that the DPP has discontinued the charges for fear of her life, when perhaps the matter should not have proceeded to charges in the first place. The trial did not take place in a timely way because of the adverse pre-trial publicity against Lehrmann, with the tenor of many in the media that he was guilty. Lisa Wilkinson was fortunate not to be prosecuted for her self-indulgent Logies speech which implied just that. Lehrmann’s reputation and career has been ruined, when we don’t know whether or not he committed a serious crime.  The reputation of the ACT DPP has also been trashed. And there’s also the expenditure of significant public resources for no real result. Proof that politics and legal processes don’t mix.

What a mess.

Israel Folau settles claim with Rugby Australia

Posted on Categories civil litigation, Industrial relations, Liberty, litigation, Unfair dismissal Tags , , , , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Israel Folau settles claim with Rugby Australia

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Following a marathon mediation, former Wallabies star Israel Folau and Rugby Australia have settled their dispute over the termination of Folau’s employment with Rugby Australia after he made controversial comments on Twitter about homosexuality.

The case was notable and of political significance because it highlighted the tensions between the rights of employers to dismiss workers to preserve their own reputational interests, freedom of religion, and employees being able to publicly express their own opinions outside of work. Continue reading “Israel Folau settles claim with Rugby Australia”

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