Mental health concerns lead prosecutors to drop Parliament House assault case

UPDATED | Prosecutors are no longer pursuing sexual assault charges against the man accused of raping ex-Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins due to the impact on her mental health.

Dec 02, 2022, updated Dec 02, 2022
A Federal Court judge says Brittany Higgins was raped by Bruce Lehrmann: AAP/Mick Tsikas. Bruce Lehrmann photo: AAP/Dean Lewins

A Federal Court judge says Brittany Higgins was raped by Bruce Lehrmann: AAP/Mick Tsikas. Bruce Lehrmann photo: AAP/Dean Lewins

A spokeswoman for Higgins confirmed she had been admitted to hospital after an “unrelenting” few years since she went public with her allegations.

Bruce Lehrmann was charged with sexual intercourse without consent and was on bail awaiting a new trial in the ACT Supreme Court after juror misconduct derailed the first.

Higgins alleged Lehrmann raped her in March 2019 inside the office of former Liberal defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, when they both worked there as staffers.

He has denied the allegation and maintained the pair never had any sexual interaction.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold announced he would no longer proceed with the case, due to evidence about the effects of another trial on Higgins’ mental health.

“I have recently received compelling evidence from two independent medical experts that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant,” he said.

He said he still held the view that there was a reasonable chance of conviction, but the prosecution would not be pursued.

“Whilst the pursuit of justice is essential for both my office and for the community in general, the safety of a complainant in a sexual assault matter must be paramount,” he said.

“I have made the difficult decision that it is no longer in the public interest to pursue a prosecution at the risk of the complainant’s life.”

Drumgold had previously indicated he would proceed with a retrial in February.

He noted Higgins had faced “a level of personal attack” that he had not seen in more than 20 years in the legal profession.

“She has done so with bravery, grace and dignity and it is my hope that this will now stop and Ms Higgins will be allowed to heal,” he said.

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Emma Webster, a close friend of Higgins, said the past few years had been “difficult and unrelenting” and confirmed she was in hospital receiving treatment and support.

“While it’s disappointing the trial has ended this way, Brittany’s health and safety must always come first,” Webster said.

Advocates are urging law reform in the wake of the case to reduce the impacts on sexual assault complainants.

The Global Institute of Women’s Leadership, of which Higgins is a member, said the case demonstrated the toll of sexual assault prosecutions.

“There is a clear need for ongoing law reform and practical changes in both the criminal justice system and the laws, processes and institutions that prohibit workplace harassment and ensure safe, respectful workplaces,” the institute said in a statement.

“The personal price she has paid has been astronomical.

“We cannot continue to expect individuals to pay such a price in the pursuit of justice, let alone systemic change.”

Greens senator Larissa Waters said Higgins had shown strength and resilience and that her party would push for procedural protections to be rolled out nationally.

“To end Australia’s culture of sexual violence, harassment and abuse we must start by supporting victims to come forward, and dismantling power imbalances and gender stereotypes that deter them from doing so,” she said.


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