Lehrmann trial will be examined by independent ACT inquiry


Lehrmann has always denied Higgins’s allegation and pleaded not guilty.

Drumgold announced last month the retrial would not go ahead due to grave concerns for Higgins’ mental health and the case against Lehrmann was dropped.

The decision not to proceed with Lehrmann’s retrial has triggered an extraordinary series of exchanges between the public prosecutor and the police union, all highly critical of each other’s professional conduct.

The ACT Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions earlier this week month released to The Guardian a letter in which Drumgold complained to Gaughan that police engaged in a “very clear campaign to pressure” him not to prosecute Lehrmann.

Brittany Higgins (centre) spoke outside the ACT Supreme Court after the first trial was aborted.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Gaughan said the force was not consulted before the letter was released, and the police union flagged plans to refer the document’s release to Office of the Australian Information Commission and the ACT Ombudsman as a possible breach of FOI laws.

On December 8, the Australian Federal Police Association issued a statement saying it “wants to make it extremely clear that the desperate attempts to smear” the AFP and policing were untested.

The inquiry will consider several elements of the case: the engagement between the prosecutor’s office and police regarding the prospect of charges being laid; the decision to proceed to trial and the decision not to pursue a retrial; the conduct of the police and the prosecutor’s office; the laws for addressing juror misconduct in the ACT; and the assistance given to Higgins during the trial.

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Rattenbury said the government had contacted representatives of both Lehrmann and Higgins ahead of the announcement and it would be up to those conducting the inquiry to determine whether either was called to give evidence.

“Clearly we need to take into account the mental wellbeing of Ms Higgins and others involved,” Rattenbury said.

The inquiry will be able to hold public and private hearings, issue search warrants, compel the production of documents and compel the attendance of witnesses and take their evidence on oath. Police, the DPP and the Victims of Crime Commissioner have all indicated they will cooperate.

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The Attorney-General said the inquiry wasn’t about revisiting the trial or any evidence within it.

“It is expected that the inquiry will have regard to investigations which other bodies may be conducting regarding these matters,” he said. “I would ask everyone to respect the privacy of individuals who will be involved in this Inquiry.

ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum aborted the first trial after a juror brought their own research into the jury room while deliberating the verdict. There are punishments for such behaviour under the territory’s laws.

Rattenbury said it “seems appropriate” juror misconduct would be examined by the inquiry, while the ACT government was also looking into majority verdicts, which enable a verdict to be reached without unanimity.

Higgins has received a confidential settlement with the Commonwealth, while Lehrmann is reportedly considering launching defamation proceedings regarding some media reporting.

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