Prosecutors in Australia have dropped high-profile legal action against a former government employee accused of raping a colleague inside Parliament, saying a new trial would pose a “significant and unacceptable risk” to life of the woman
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold told reporters on Friday that the risk to Brittany Higgins’ mental health must come before the need for a resolution in the case .
Higgins, a former federal government employee, alleges she was raped by former colleague Bruce Lehrmann in the office of Australia’s then defense minister in 2019.
Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to non-consensual sex and maintains that he never had sex with Higgins, consensual or otherwise.
The charge has now been withdrawn.
Drumgold said he had received “compelling evidence” from two independent medical experts that the “ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents a significant and unacceptable risk” to Higgins’ life.
“The evidence makes it clear that this is not limited to the harm of testifying in the witness box,” he said.
The case went to trial in Canberra in October, but the judge ordered a new trial due to jury misconduct. The retrial was due to take place in February 2023.
However, Drumgold told reporters on Friday that a new trial was no longer in the public interest.
“This has left me with no option but to file a notice of refusal to proceed with the retrial of this matter, which I did this morning. That puts an end to the prosecution,” Drumgold said.
Higgins is currently in hospital, according to a statement from his friend Emma Webster on Friday.
“The last two years have been tough and relentless,” Webster said. “Brittany is very grateful for all the support she has received, especially from our mental health workers.”
In the original trial, the judge dismissed the 12-member jury deliberating the rape verdict after it was revealed that a juror had investigated the allegations and brought that information to the jury room.
Higgins alleged that Lehrmann raped her in 2019 after the two shared a taxi to Parliament after a night out with colleagues in the capital.
Higgins went to the police shortly after the alleged incident, but did not make a formal complaint, citing fears that taking the matter further could damage his career.
But in 2021, he spoke to the media and the case hit the headlines, not only because of the location of the alleged attack, but because of Higgins’ claims that he had been discouraged from running to avoid political fallout ahead of the election of 2019.
Lehrmann was arrested and charged last year, but the trial was delayed, in part because of fears that the publicity surrounding the case meant he would not get a fair hearing.