Bruce Lehrmann: Jury dismissed in Australian rape trial due to extrajudicial inquiry




CNN

An Australian judge has dismissed a 12-member jury considering the verdict in a high-profile rape trial after a juror had investigated the allegations and brought that information to the jury room.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said she had no choice but to adjourn the trial in light of the jury’s conduct and scheduled a new trial for February 20, 2023.

A jury spent five days deliberating a charge of sexual intercourse without consent against former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann, accused of raping his then colleague Brittany Higgins in the Houses of Parliament in March 2019.

Lehrmann has denied the allegations and says no sex, consensual or otherwise, took place.

McCallum pointed out that in New South Wales it would be an offense to seek information about the accused or any matter relevant to the trial, but there was no such law in the nation’s capital, where the case was being tried.

“There is no crime like this in the Australian Capital Territory. But it is doubtful that the jury’s conduct is such as to warrant a mistrial,” he said Thursday.

“It goes without saying that this is an unexpected and unfortunate outcome in this trial,” he added.

The 12-member jury retired to consider the verdict last Wednesday, after a trial that began on October 3 and lasted nearly three weeks.

The jury told McCallum on Tuesday that they could not reach a unanimous decision, but sent them back and asked them to try to work out their differences. They were called back on Thursday and dismissed after the jury’s actions were revealed.

Allegations of rape at Parliament House were made public in early 2021, although the assault is said to have taken place in 2019 after a night out in Canberra. Higgins and Lehrmann were among a group of workers drinking in bars in the capital before the two took a taxi to the Houses of Parliament, where Higgins alleged Lehrmann raped her.

Shortly after the alleged incident, Higgins went to the police, but did not make a formal complaint, fearing that pursuing the matter could damage her career.

But in 2021, he spoke to the media and the case made headlines, not only because of the location of the alleged attack – in the House of Parliament – but also because of Higgins’ claims that he was not encouraged to avoid a political fallout ahead of the 2019 election. Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition won.

Lehrmann was arrested and charged last year, but his trial was delayed due to fears that publicity surrounding the case would prevent a fair trial.

Morrison’s coalition government is out of power after losing the federal election to the Labor Party in May.