A rape allegation and a media storm: a timeline of how the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case unfolded

<span>See a timeline of events around the defamation trial. From left: Brittany Higgins, Lisa Wilkinson, Bruce Lehrmann and Linda Reynolds.</span><span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/Guardian Australia</span>
See a timeline of events around the defamation trial. From left: Brittany Higgins, Lisa Wilkinson, Bruce Lehrmann and Linda Reynolds.Photograph: Dean Lewins/Guardian Australia

In 2021, the Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins made an explosive allegation, claiming she had been raped two years earlier on a minister’s couch in Parliament House.

She made the claim in an interview with news.com.au and a television interview which was aired by Network Ten’s The Project on 15 February.

The media outlets did not name the alleged rapist, but Higgins’ colleague Bruce Lehrmann later claimed he was identifiable and sued news.com.au, Network Ten and its presenter Lisa Wilkinson for defamation.

Related: A minister’s office and two different stories: the Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial comes to a close

Lehrmann maintains his innocence, and at his criminal trial in 2022 pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

After his criminal trial was aborted in December 2022, prosecutors dropped charges against Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health. Lehrmann then pursued Ten and Wilkinson in the courts, resulting in a five-week defamation trial which ran until just before Christmas.

Here’s how the story has played out so far.


Friday 22 March

  • Liberal staffers Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins drink at The Dock bar in Canberra with colleagues, where Higgins consumes multiple drinks. At the time, Lehrmann and Higgins worked for the then defence minister, Senator Linda Reynolds.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

  • Lehrmann, Higgins and two other staffers kick on to another venue, the nightclub 88mph.

Saturday 23 March

  • Lehrmann and Higgins share an Uber to Parliament House, arriving about 1.40am. Lehrmann tells security he has been requested by the minister to pick up work documents.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

  • Security guards escort the pair to Reynolds’ ministerial suite. Higgins can be seen in security footage carrying her high heels after struggling to put them on. There is no security camera footage of what happened inside the suite.

  • Higgins later alleges that Lehrmann raped her in the ministerial suite. Lehrmann has vehemently denied the allegation.

  • About 40 minutes later Lehrmann leaves parliament alone.

  • Eight hours later, at about 10am, security footage shows Higgins leaving parliament wearing a jacket she found in the suite.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

Tuesday 26 March

  • The Department of Parliamentary Services provides a report to Reynolds’ chief of staff, Fiona Brown, about a “security breach” involving staff entering the office after hours and inebriated.

  • Higgins and Lehrmann are called into separate meetings with Brown and interviewed about the security breach. Lehrmann leaves the office shortly afterwards.

Friday 5 April

  • Lehrmann’s employment in Reynolds’ office is terminated over the security breach.

Monday 8 April

  • Higgins meets with Australian federal police (AFP) at Belconnen police station and says she was raped, but drops the complaint a week later.


Wednesday 27 January

  • Higgins is working as an adviser for Senator Michaelia Cash when she and her partner, David Sharaz, meet with The Project journalist Lisa Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn in Sydney.

Friday 29 January

  • Higgins resigns from her adviser position in Cash’s office.

Tuesday 2 February

  • Higgins records an interview with Wilkinson for The Project in which she alleges she was raped on a couch in the minister’s office.

Thursday 4 February

  • Higgins contacts the AFP to reopen her police complaint.

Monday 15 February

  • Higgins’ interviews with news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden and Ten’s Wilkinson are published by news.com.au in the morning and aired by The Project that evening.

Monday 19 April

  • Lehrmann is interviewed by police.

Wednesday 26 May

  • Higgins meets with the AFP and hands over her phone for extraction after the interview.

Thursday 16 September

  • Lehrmann pleads not guilty after being charged with sexual intercourse without consent.


Tuesday 21 June

  • Lehrmann’s trial for the alleged rape of Higgins is delayed after Wilkinson’s Logies speech in which she thanked Higgins. Later the defamation trial hears the speech was approved by Ten’s legal team.

Tuesday 4 October

  • Lehrmann’s criminal trial begins in Canberra before the ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum. Higgins’ evidence is delayed after she is unavailable to attend court.

Wednesday 19 October

  • Jury begins deliberations after final instructions, but asks for more time.

Thursday 27 October

  • The chief justice dismisses the jury after it is discovered one juror obtained information outside the evidence presented in court.

Friday 2 December

  • The ACT prosecutor Shane Drumgold announces the case has been dropped, after receiving medical advice regarding Higgins.


Tuesday 7 February

  • Lehrmann starts legal action against Network Ten and news.com.au in the federal court.

Wednesday 5 April

  • Lehrmann files defamation proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its broadcast of an address to the National Press Club by Higgins and Grace Tame. He now has three defamation cases running against the media.

Tuesday 30 May

  • Lehrmann discontinues defamation proceedings against News Corp’s news.com.au after it pays $295,000 towards his legal fees as part of a settlement.

Sunday 4 June

Tuesday 21 November

  • The ABC settles with Lehrmann, paying $150,000 towards his legal fees the day before the trial starts.

Wednesday 22 November

  • The defamation trial against Ten and Wilkinson begins in Sydney’s federal court before Justice Michael Lee. Ten and Wilkinson rely on the defences of truth and qualified privilege. They argue the imputation that Lehrmann raped Higgins is substantially true and because defamation proceedings are civil matters, rather than criminal, the standard of proof is different. Under the qualified privilege defence, Ten and Wilkinson must prove the program was in the public interest and they acted reasonably.

  • In the interests of open justice, Lee makes the trial available to the public on the court’s YouTube channel.

  • Lehrmann is the first witness and he spends five days in the witness box.

Tuesday 28 November

  • Higgins begins her evidence, spending four full days in the witness box.

Tuesday 5 December

  • Documents released by the court suggest Lehrmann’s deal with Channel Seven for exclusive interviews was worth $104,000.

Tuesday 19 December

  • The forensic lip-reader Tim Reedy flies in from the UK and tells the court he believes CCTV footage from The Dock in Canberra showed Higgins being “plied with alcohol”. His expert report is accepted into evidence despite objections raised by Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow.

Thursday 21 December

  • In closing submissions Ten’s legal team say Lehrmann was “revealed to be a fundamentally dishonest man who was prepared to say or do anything he perceived to advance his interests”.

  • Wilkinson’s team say the presenter “had no decision-making power as to the final content of the broadcast”.

Friday 22 December

  • On the last day of the trial, Lehrmann’s lawyers say Higgins told “complete falsehoods” and her allegations were part of a “political hit job” fuelled by her partner, Sharaz.

  • Lee thanks the parties for their exemplary conduct in what could have been “an extraordinarily difficult case to control and manage in the courtroom given its controversy”.

  • Lee retires to consider more than 15,000 pages of transcript and 1,000 separate exhibits, including hours of CCTV footage as well as audio and video recordings.


Friday 16 February

  • Court documents reveal Wilkinson blamed the network for failing to stop the bad press and that she was afraid she would lose her harbourside mansion if Ten didn’t pay her legal costs.

Friday 1 March

  • Lehrmann, Ten and Wilkinson make final submissions after additional evidence was heard in a cross-claim brought by Wilkinson against Ten for her legal fees. The former presenter on The Project won the case the previous month.

Sunday 31 March

  • In a surprise move late on Easter Sunday, Network Ten file an interlocutory application asking the federal court to reopen its defence based on “fresh evidence”.

Tuesday 2 April

  • In an urgent hearing, Lee allows Channel Ten to present additional evidence in defence of the defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann. His judgment – due to be handed down on Thursday 4 April – is delayed.

Monday 15 April

  • Lehrmann loses his defamation case against Channel Ten and Wilkinson with Lee ruling that, on the balance of probabilities, Lehrmann raped Higgins in Parliament House.