Australian government settles civil lawsuit in rape case in parliament

By Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Former political staffer Brittany Higgins has settled a personal injury lawsuit against the Australian government weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against the former colleague who was accused of raping her while working in parliament.

The high-profile trial of Bruce Lehrmann over the alleged 2019 rape of Higgins in a ministerial office in Parliament was halted in October after a jury member gained access to details not presented as evidence.

Reuters doesn’t usually identify victims of sex crimes, but Higgins has gone public with the allegation.

Australian Capital Territory prosecutors dropped charges against Lehrmann in early December over fears that a retrial could put Higgins’ life at risk.

Days later, Higgins filed a civil lawsuit against two former ministers and the federal government over sexual harassment, sex discrimination and other allegations, local media reported.

Noor Blumer of Blumers Lawyers, who represents Higgins, said last night that his client and the government had reached an agreement after a brief arbitration, according to local media. The terms would remain confidential at Higgins’ request.

An attorney general spokesman confirmed that a deal had been reached.

It was not immediately known whether the two ministers had reached an agreement with Higgins.

Higgins, a former staff member of former defense industry minister Linda Reynolds, went public last year of allegations that she was sexually assaulted in a ministerial office in Parliament in March 2019.

The charge has rocked the former government led by Scott Morrison as it struggled to assuage public anger months before the general election amid reports of sexual abuse, discrimination against women and misconduct in parliament.

Lehrmann, who has pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence, has engaged Sydney solicitor Mark O’Brien for potential libel proceedings.

In a recent social media post, Higgins said she was “willing to defend the truth as a witness in any potential civil suit.”

Although the February 2023 retrial did not go ahead, the case continues to reverberate through the Australian justice system.

The trial’s lead prosecutor, Shane Drumgold, called in a letter released publicly on Monday for an inquiry into police and political conduct and said there had been a campaign of police pressure not to prosecute the case.

The police union called the allegations “defamation” and said they had not been verified in court. He called for an inquiry assessing the conduct of Drumgold, the prosecution department and the Attorney General.

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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