Australian government settles civil claim in Parliament rape case
SYDNEY - Former political staffer Brittany Higgins has settled a personal injury claim against the Australian government weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against the former colleague accused of raping her while they worked in Parliament.
The high profile trial of Mr Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged 2019 rape of Higgins in a ministerial office in Parliament House was stopped in October after a jury member got access to details not submitted as evidence.
Reuters does not usually identify victims of sex crimes, but Ms Higgins went public with the accusation.
Australian Capital Territory prosecutors dropped charges against Mr Lehrmann in early December over fears a retrial could risk Ms Higgins’ life.
Days later, Ms Higgins launched a civil suit against two former ministers and the federal government for sexual harassment, sex discrimination and other claims, local media reported.
Ms Noor Blumer of Blumers Lawyers, representing Ms Higgins, said late on Tuesday that her client and the government had reached a settlement after a short arbitration, according to local media. The terms would remain confidential at the request of Ms Higgins.
A spokesman for the attorney-general confirmed a settlement had been reached.
There was no immediate word if the two ministers had reached an agreement with Ms Higgins.
Ms Higgins, an ex-staffer for former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, went public last year with the allegation that she had been sexually assaulted in a ministerial office at Parliament House in March 2019.
The allegation rocked the former government led by Mr Scott Morrison as he struggled to placate public anger months before a general election amid reports of sexual abuse, discrimination against women and misconduct in Parliament.
Mr Lehrmann, who pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence, has engaged Sydney-based lawyer Mark O’Brien over potential defamation proceedings.
In a recent post on social media, Ms Higgins said she was “willing to defend the truth as a witness in any potential civil cases”.
Despite the February 2023 retrial not going ahead, the case continues to reverberate through Australia’s judicial system.
The chief prosecutor in the trial, Mr Shane Drumgold, called in a letter released publicly on Monday for an inquiry into political and police conduct and alleged there was a police pressure campaign not to prosecute the case.
The police union called the accusations “smears” and said they were untested in court. It called for an inquiry that would assess the conduct of Mr Drumgold, the department of public prosecutions and the attorney-general. - REUTERS
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