SYDNEY: An Australian judge ruled on Monday that a conservative political staffer likely committed rape in parliament, a dramatic twist in a case that sparked national protests.

The judge threw out a defamation suit brought by the former staffer, Bruce Lehrmann, against Network 10 television after it broadcast an interview with his alleged victim, Brittany Higgins.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee made his finding on the balance of probabilities, as required in civil cases. In a criminal case, a conviction must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. “Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins. I hasten to stress; this is a finding on the balance of probabilities,” the judge said.

“Mr Lehrmann remains a man who has not been convicted of any offence, but he has now been found, by the civil standard of proof, to have engaged in a great wrong,” Lee said. Higgins has alleged that Lehrmann raped her on a couch inside the national parliamentary office of a government minister following a night of heavy drinking in March 2019. Lehrmann has stridently maintained his innocence and has not been convicted of any criminal offence.

A criminal case against him on a charge of sexual intercourse without consent collapsed in October 2022. A courtroom sheriff had discovered a jury member with an academic paper on sexual assault — a document prohibited by the trial’s strict rules.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2024

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