The ACT Supreme Court has reacted after lawyers for Bruce Lerman sought urgent legal advice from police over whether Brittany Higgins’ speech outside the ACT Supreme Court could constitute contempt of court.
In response to inquiries about the contempt complaint, the court issued a statement saying “the court does not engage in public discussion of the statements of any litigant.”
Mr Lerman’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow, was seen talking angrily on his phone in court after the speech.
In a statement, he confirmed that he had referred the case to the police.
“As we left court this morning, I told the assembled media that, given that the case is still ongoing and a retrial is scheduled for February 20, 2023, it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to make any further comment at this stage. »
“I understand that the applicant and other members of her support group were in court this morning when the chief judge dismissed the jury and made harsh comments about people making statements or comments that could prejudice a fair trial.
“Despite her honor’s warning, the appellant proceeded to make a speech to the media outside the court which appeared to be a pre-prepared speech.”
“We have brought these comments to the attention of the court and the Australian Federal Police and it is inappropriate for Mr Lerman or his lawyers to make any comment as to whether the applicant’s statements may constitute contempt of court, a breach of the ACT Criminal Code.
“I call on all media to exercise restraint in covering this matter and, in particular, in republishing the statements made by the complainant.
“Neither Mr Lerman nor his lawyers will be making any further comment on this matter at this stage.”
Brittany Higgins earlier said she felt “on trial” in the stalled trial over her alleged rape in a statement outside the ACT Supreme Court.
After five days of deliberations, the jury in the trial of Bruce Lerman was deadlocked Thursday after allegations of juror misconduct.
Mr Lerman has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer has said there was no sexual intercourse.
Surrounded by supporters, including her mother Kelly Higgins, friend Emma Webster and partner David Charaz, she also thanked Canberra’s paramedics for saving her life.
“I decided to speak up,” Ms Higgins said.
“To express myself and share my experiences with others.
“I told the truth. However inconvenient and unflattering it may be for the court.”
But she told reporters that the experience was bruising.
“When I came forward, I never understood how lopsided the criminal justice system was, but I do now,” she said.
“For more than a week, witnesses demanded that I tell the truth under oath, I was interrogated for a long time.
“I was required to hand over my phone numbers, password, messages, photos and data to him.
“My life was publicly scrutinized, open to the world.”
Although some criticized the media for describing the matter as a trial of Brittany Higgins, she told reporters that it was true.
“Many of you in the media have been called out for what you have called the last few weeks the Higgins trial.
“I don’t blame you because it’s very clear who was being judged,” she said.
She then spoke about how sexual assault complainants are treated in Canberra.
“Their lives are torn apart, their friends and families are called upon to bear witness.
“In the ACT during 2020, only 16 per cent of sex crimes reported to the police resulted in a charge. Only half of that number resulted in a re-conviction. This is our national shame.”
Ms. Higgins did not respond to questions about whether she would testify at the second trial.
Speaking outside court, lawyers for Mr Lerman said it was a “disappointing” result.
“Everyone is disappointed by what happened, but it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to say anything at this stage,” said lawyer Steve Whybrow.
What reasons did the presiding judge give for stopping the trial
After a 12-day trial and five days of jury deliberations, Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said it was “unfortunately necessary to discharge first one of the jurors and then the rest of the jury”.
“At the time they were discharged, the jury was still deliberating after I gave them Black’s referral on Tuesday afternoon,” she said.
“Instead, the jury was excused because I received compelling evidence that at least one juror had access to research materials that were not provided to the jury during the trial.”
What the sheriff found in the jury room
The chief judge said she wanted to record her gratitude “for the courage, integrity and common sense displayed by the sheriff’s officers who happened to make this discovery.”
“I heard evidence this morning that during a routine clean-up of the jury room by three sheriff’s officers following the conclusion of proceedings yesterday, one of the officers accidentally knocked a juror’s file folder onto the floor. Jury dockets are plastic boxes with a clear front.
“As the officer picked up the box to replace it on the chair from which it had fallen, he noticed part of the title page of an academic research paper, the source of which suggested that the subject of the paper might be sexual assault.
“The case was brought to my attention immediately. The box with the juror’s documents was not opened. However, by looking at the date and publisher of the newspaper (which were visible through the cover), my associates were able to determine what appeared to be the article in question. The identity of the paper found by my associates was confirmed to the jury this morning in evidence that it was the paper in their file box.
“The topic of the article is really sexual violence. Specifically, it discusses the futility of trying to quantify the prevalence of false sexual assault complaints and provides a more in-depth, research-based analysis of the reasons for both false complaints and skepticism about genuine complaints.’
After the jury was discharged, the chief judge said sheriff’s officers informed her that the same juror was also in possession of two additional scientific articles on the subject of sexual assault.
“It is impossible and not helpful to speculate on what, if any, this information might have been used for in the jury room.
“This morning the juror gave an explanation that the document was not used or relied upon.
“However, in the circumstances, it is appropriate to approach this evidence with some scepticism. At the very least, the fact that the paper was found and brought into the jury room by the juror indicates that it may have influenced the juror’s input into the jury’s deliberations.
“The unfairness to both sides is obvious.”
17 Jury Warnings for “Research”
During the trial, the chief justice calculated, the jury should have been given at least 17, and possibly more, warnings or instructions against conducting any research or investigation of their own.
“In my opening remarks to the jurors, I said: sometimes in jury trials it happens that the jurors are interested in some question. They may think that they will learn more if they go to visit the place where something allegedly happened, or think – it has sometimes been reported that jurors have tried to recreate different things to see if something could have happened the way someone said .
“And you will understand that I have told you that it is absolutely forbidden, members of the jury.
“You must not attempt to conduct your own investigations or attempt to reproduce any aspect of the offense or consider any extrinsic evidence about the use of alcohol or any matters that may arise during the trial. You must rely solely on the evidence you hear in this courtroom.
“In any case, it is indisputable that the research paper made its way into the jury room. A review of the article shows that it can be deployed to support both sides of the central issue in the case, which was whether the act of intercourse was
has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The discovery of the article and the fact that it was brought into the jury room alone necessitated the dismissal of the entire jury.
No charges will be presented to the jury
The presiding judge noted that in New South Wales such behavior would be considered an offence.
“There is no such offense in the Australian Capital Territory, but it is undisputed that the conduct of the jury is such as to scuttle the trial. Both the representatives of the prosecution and the accused agreed with my decision in this regard. It goes without saying that this result is both unexpected and sad,” she said.
“Before I leave this topic, I want to thank all the lawyers who spoke
question for how they behaved in an exemplary manner.
“The role of a lawyer in criminal proceedings, especially a lawyer, is sometimes poorly understood. In this trial, all attorneys conducted themselves with the utmost integrity, fairness, honesty, and perhaps most importantly, fearlessness. They should be praised for this, not criticized.
“For these reasons, this morning I ordered the man’s release
to a jury under section 8 of the Juries Act 1967 (ACT) and to fulfill the balance
Originally published as Bruce Lerman’s lawyers seek legal advice from police over Brittany Higgins’ post-trial speech