Bruce Lehrmann, a well-known individual, has been identified as the man who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in Toowoomba, Australia, two years ago.
Lehrmann can now be identified, as his legal representatives were unsuccessful in their challenge of a Toowoomba judge’s decision to deny him a non-publication order for the purpose of preserving his anonymity.
Lehrmann has been accused of committing two counts of sexual assault against a woman in October 2021. The case has been going through preliminary hearings at Toowoomba Magistrates Court since January, but he has not yet been formally charged to face trial.
In February 2021, the ex-political aide gained widespread attention when he was accused of sexually assaulting former colleague and Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in 2019 at Parliament House in Canberra. He has consistently maintained his innocence, entering a not guilty plea during the trial and stating in an interview with Seven Network’s Spotlight program in June that the alleged incident did not occur.
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Until recently, the laws in Queensland did not allow him to be named in relation to the allegations in Toowoomba.
In September, the state implemented new legislation that permits the identification of suspected sexual offenders once they have been charged. Before, this was only allowed once they were ordered to appear in court. This update aligns the state with the majority of other states and territories.
After the legal modification, Andrew Hoare, the barrister representing Lehrmann, requested a non-disclosure order for two reasons. He claimed that disclosing his client’s identity could bias the Toowoomba jury against him and that the intense public attention could negatively impact his mental well-being and potentially lead to self-harm.
On October 13th, a hearing was held where magistrate Clare Kelly rejected two arguments. The supreme court upheld this decision on Thursday.
Various media organizations, such as Guardian Australia, ABC, Nine, News Corp publications, and Network Ten, along with Queensland police, opposed the judicial review and non-publication order.
Accepting evidence regarding mental health can be challenging.
Kelly considered the defendant’s “weaknesses” due to “recent events” in making her previous ruling. However, she observed that he was not currently receiving treatment from a mental health expert and there was no proof that he was taking prescribed medication for his mental health.
The defendant made that decision, she stated.
The judge deemed some of the evidence presented by defense’s clinical psychologist, Dr. James Brown, as hard to believe.
Kelly concurred with Rob Anderson’s argument, as a representative of the media companies, and stated that the defense’s depiction of the defendant did not match the image of a man who had participated in numerous prime time media interviews following his charge for the Toowoomba rape.
“It appears that he desires to be acknowledged in all places except for this one,” stated Anderson in court.
The alleged rape victim expressed a desire for Lehrmann to be identified.
Kelly acknowledged that disclosing the defendant’s identity would lead to heightened media attention, but stated that the concept of transparency in this situation was strongly in line with the best interests of the public.
She stated that revealing “humiliating, harmful, or potentially hazardous information” in a public court setting was a necessary sacrifice for the sake of the public’s well-being.
The speaker expressed concern that if not addressed, influential individuals involved in legal disputes may believe they can receive more favorable treatment from the court or prosecution than the average person, whose cases are publicly disclosed.
Kelly rejected the idea that identifying Lehrmann could sway jurors against him, stating that Toowoomba does not meet the qualifications for a non-publication exemption as a “rural or remote” location and the defendant is not a resident of the town. She argued that disclosing his identity in this regional city in Queensland would have the same impact as it would in any other Australian city.
The judge supports the magistrate’s evaluation.
During a court hearing on Thursday, Hoare attempted to persuade Justice Peter Applegarth that Kelly was mistaken in taking into account his client’s failure to seek mental health treatment or medication when evaluating the risk of self-harm.
The lawyer contended that the judge did not adequately evaluate the danger faced by his client and did not have sufficient proof to determine that his participation in media interviews during prime time contradicted the depiction of him in the psychologist’s report.
“It may seem enticing, but there is insufficient evidence to make the assertion that an individual’s risk is constant,” stated Hoare. “Risk is a dynamic concept, heavily influenced by the specific circumstances in which a person finds themselves.”
However, Applegarth countered by suggesting that the defense could have strengthened their case by showing that the defendant’s public image in those media interviews did not align with his true mental state – that his boasts of starting fires were merely a facade, that he was masking his true feelings of distress, or that he had experienced a dramatic emotional downturn after the interviews.
Applegarth stated that none of these statements have been made.
The judge determined that it was justified for the magistrate to give less importance to Dr Brown’s report in the absence of a thorough explanation.
Applegarth commented, “A skeptic may argue that Channel 7 must have given him or his lawyers a hefty sum of money, given the impact it had on his application.”
The judge stated that despite the possibility of being identified, Lehrmann’s mental well-being was not enough to justify a non-publication order for his safety.
The highest court determined that, based on the available evidence, it was reasonable for a decision-maker to not believe that the non-publication order was needed to safeguard the applicant’s safety.
The legal team representing the media and the prosecution team from the police will request payment for expenses.
Defamation action ongoing
Lehrmann gained attention during the Higgins incident when she claimed she was sexually assaulted in a government building in March 2019.
In February 2021, Higgins shared details of the reported incidents in interviews with the media. Later on, she filed a complaint with the police and Lehrmann was identified as the suspect when he was charged in August 2021.
The first legal trial regarding Higgins’ accusations was halted due to juror misconduct. In December 2022, the charges against Lehrmann were dismissed by the prosecution.
Afterwards, an investigation was conducted into how the authorities handled the case, overseen by Walter Sofronoff. The inquiry revealed multiple instances of inappropriate behavior by the former director of public prosecutions in the ACT, Shane Drumgold SC, who has since taken legal action against the accusations.
Lehrmann is presently involved in a legal case against Network 10, journalist Lisa Wilkinson, and the ABC for defamation. He claims that they falsely accused him of raping Higgins in their broadcasts.
The trial for defamation is set to begin at the end of November.
The legal proceedings for the Toowoomba case commenced in January.
The attorney representing him has asked for the supposed victim to submit 19 months worth of phone records, which includes six months of data prior to the date of the supposed crime.
The prosecutors are currently reviewing the phone data and have not yet decided whether they will allow it to be released.
The hearing will reconvene at Toowoomba Magistrates Court on November 1st, which is a Wednesday.
The Queensland government has approved the modification of its regulations regarding the identification of individuals accused of sexual offenses, following the suggestion made by the women’s safety and justice taskforce in the previous year.
The taskforce concluded that individuals accused of sexual offenses should not be treated differently from those facing other criminal charges. This means that alleged offenders can be publicly identified after being charged.