Lawyers acting for Brittany Higgins are set to hold talks with the federal government over a million-dollar compensation claim in the wake of the dramatic collapse of the rape trial on mental health grounds.
And the man originally charged over her alleged rape, Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann, is also considering civil remedies for a cash payout, with his legal team considering a Comcare claim, defamation action against media outlets and unfair dismissal from the jobs he lost after the allegations emerged.
Mr Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence and was never convicted of any crime.
Sources who have seen the legal documentation supporting Ms Higgins’ claim say that it includes compensation for lost earnings, future earnings and at-home support for Ms Higgins, who has not worked full-time since she went public with her account of an alleged incident at Parliament House.
The three respondents named in the legal correspondence are Senator Reynolds, who was Ms Higgins’ direct employer at the time she was found in the ministerial suite by a security guard in 2019 and Liberal frontbencher Michaelia Cash and the Commonwealth.
But an official claim has not been filed while parties prepare to enter into mediation talks.
Ms Higgins’ personal lawyer Leon Zwier, who was a regular fixture at her criminal case in Canberra is aware of the claim.
However, Ms Higgins is being represented in the personal injury matter by Noor Blumer, a founding partner of Blumers Lawyer who has practised as a personal injury lawyer since 1992.
Ms Blumer has been quietly negotiating the claim since February.
It follows former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s apology to Ms Higgins in parliament for the “many terrible experiences Ms Higgins has detailed during her time working at Parliament House and the treatment that she has described receiving whilst working here.”
But he insisted that apology was “by no means a reflection on the matters before a court.”
Ms Blumer declined to comment on the matter or any mediation talks when contacted.
A leading Canberra lawyer, Ms Blumer previously went public with her own complaint that former High Court judge Dyson Heydon tried to touch her leg under the table and kiss her at University of Canberra Law ball several years ago.
Mr Heydon issued a statement at the time through his lawyers denying “emphatically any allegation of sexual harassment or any offence”.
News of the compensation claim follows shock revelations over the weekend that police “unlawfully” sent Ms Higgins private counselling notes to Mr Lehrmann’s original defence team – who insisted they didn’t open it.
Further revelations that police held concerns there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Lehrmann were also leaked to The Weekend Australian, prompting the prosecutor Shane Drumgold to raise concerns that this was – potentially – another unlawful disclosure.
Last year, Senator Reynolds offered a confidential defamation settlement to Ms Higgins after it emerged she had privately referred to her as a “lying cow”.
The money was donated to charity.
But Liberal sources said Ms Reynolds, who gave dramatic evidence at the criminal trial this year, was reluctant to settle the case.
“She will never, ever, agree to settle,” a Liberal source said.
The other former minister named in the claim, Senator Cash, emphatically denied in the ACT Supreme Court that she knew of Ms Higgins’ rape allegations more than a year before it became public in February 2021.
“Not a sexual element, no,” Senator Cash said.
“The first time that she mentioned an (alleged) sexual element was I think in the conversation on the 5th of February 2021.”
It led to a dramatic confrontation in court where the Director of Public Prosecutions asked her if she knew what the phrase “plausible deniability” meant.
“I’m putting to you that you’re denying that because it would be politically embarrassing for you?” Mr Drumgold said.
“Absolutely not. I just don’t understand the line of questioning on political embarrassment. I don’t know how it could be politically embarrassing,’’ she replied.
Defence barrister Steven Whybrow, subsequently suggested to Senator Cash that it would have been “political suicide to try and cover up a (complaint of) sexual assault between two staff”.
“Correct, hence my confusion with the line of questioning,” she replied.
It’s not the first time Senator Cash has been the subject of a compensation claim. In September 2021, news.com.au revealed Liberal frontbenchers Alan Tudge and Michaelia Cash were both named in a landmark taxpayer-funded $650,000 “no admissions” settlement to former political staffer Rachelle Miller for “hurt, distress and humiliation”.
The breakdown of the agreed payout includes $10,000 in respect of past loss of earning capacity; $100,000 in respect of loss of future earning capacity; $28,000 as reimbursement for past medical and like expenses incurred by Ms Miller; $62,000 for future medical expenses to be incurred by Ms Miller; and $300,000 for hurt, distress, humiliation, dislocation of life, loss of professional standing and impairment of personal dignity; and $150,000 as reimbursement for Ms Miller’s legal costs.
Story Credit: news.com.au