July 22, 2024

Bruce Lehrmann has been ordered to pay $2 million to Network Ten after losing his defamation case against the network in what his lawyer says might be the ‘”deal of the century”.

But the 29-year-old is unlikely to ever hand over the sum after a court was told he was of “modest means” with little ability to pay.

Justice Michael Lee in April found a Network Ten report on The Project in February 2021 did not defame Lehrmann when it effectively outed him as an alleged rapist.

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The Federal Court judge found, on the balance of probabilities, that the 29-year-old sexually assaulted Brittany Higgins in the Parliament House office of their then-boss Senator Linda Reynolds in March 2019.

On Thursday, Lee finalised Ten’s bill against Lehrmann after the network agreed to discount the funds it was seeking and quickly resolve the dispute.

Ten’s overall legal expenses for defending the case amounted to almost $3.7 million.

But after Lee found the network had failed in one of its key defences and the firm also lost out in a number of preliminary legal bids, the amount payable by Lehrmann was reduced to approximately $3.1 million.

Ten agreed to bill Lehrmann for a flat rate of $2 million after a hefty discount was applied, the network’s barrister Zoe Graus said on Thursday.

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While Lehrmann did not consent to or oppose the order, his lawyer Paul Svilans told the court he did not know enough about how Ten’s lawyers had been paid to know whether the discounted amount was realistic.

“It might be the deal of the century, the $2 million, for all I know,” he told the court.

Lee approved the amount, finding it was well within the amount that would have been recoverable given the complexity and length of the lawsuit.

But he noted Lehrmann was “a man of modest means” and there was no real likelihood he would be able to pay the substantial bill.

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It has previously been revealed that the 29-year-old had no financial backers in the case.

Lehrmann will also not have to pay the costs of his own lawyers, who were representing him on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Ten was willing to pay around $558,000 to journalist Lisa Wilkinson for her legal costs after she was also sued in the lawsuit, Graus said.

The network had initially offered to pay its former high-profile journalist $607,000 in a compromise position that was later deemed “over generous”, Lee was told.

The judge previously heard that Wilkinson would be seeking $1.8 million in costs.

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However, uncertainty about her agreement with law firm Gillis Delaney meant her legal bill would be assessed by a referee to determine how much Ten should cover and what should be passed on to Lehrmann.

If this amount was less than $558,000, Wilkinson would have to repay the excess money, Graus said.

Wilkinson’s top defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC charged $8000 for each day at trial while Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins KC charged $11,000.

Lehrmann denies that any sexual activity occurred between himself and Higgins and has appealed Lee’s findings against him.

He is not facing criminal charges over the incident after his trial was aborted due to juror misconduct and prosecutors declined to push forward with a retrial.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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