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The Australian public has been reminded yet again of the arduous nature of sexual assault cases, after the Bruce Lehrmann retrial was abandoned because it posed a “significant and unacceptable risk” to the complainant Brittany Higgins' life.

The original trial was thrown out in October 2022 due to juror misconduct and a retrial date set for February 2023.  However, on 2 December 2022, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold announced the retrial would be thrown out.

“I have recently received compelling evidence from two independent medical experts that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant,” said Drumgold.

“In light of the compelling independent medical opinion and balancing all factors, I have made the difficult decision that it is no longer in the public interest to pursue a prosecution at the risk of the complainant’s life,” said Drumgold.

“This has left me no option but to file a notice declining to proceed with the retrial of this matter which I have done this morning. This brings the prosecution to an end.”

Ex-political staffer Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by her former colleague Bruce Lehrmann inside the office of former defence minister Linda Reynolds in 2019. Lehrmann pled not guilty to the charges and denied any sexual interaction occurred.

Drumgold stated that he believed there was a reasonable chance of conviction, however the safety of the complainant in sexual assault matters remained paramount. He said Higgins had faced “a level of personal attack” that he’d not seen in 20 years working in the legal profession.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold

During the investigation and trial as a sexual assault complainant, Ms Higgins has faced a level of personal attack that I have not seen in over 20 years of doing this work

“She has done so with bravery, grace and dignity and it is my hope that this will now stop and Ms Higgins will be allowed to heal,” said Drumgold.

In a statement via Instagram in December, Higgins criticised the criminal justice system for failing to deliver outcomes to victims of sexual assault.

“I chose to speak up. To Speak up against rape. To speak up against injustice. To speak up and share my experiences with others,” wrote Higgins.

“I told the truth – no matter how uncomfortable or unflattering – to the Court. The outcome does not affect the truth.

“When I did speak up, I never fully understood our asymmetrical criminal justice system. But I do now.”

In her online post, Higgins highlighted differences in the way that she and Lehrmann were treated during the trial.

“I was required to tell the truth under oath over a week on the witness stand and was cross examined at length,” she wrote.

“He was afforded the choice of staying silent in court.

“My life was publicly scrutinised, open for the world to see. His was not.”

Higgins asserted that she was required to surrender her telephone, passports, messages, photos, and data while Lehrmann was not. Some defence lawyers have taken issue with this point, claiming Lehrmann was required to surrender his phone to the police.

Emma Webster, a close friend of Higgins, told reporters that Higgins is currently in hospital in Queensland.

“The last couple of years have been difficult and unrelenting,” said Webster.

“Brittany is extremely grateful for all the support she has received, particularly from our mental health care workers.”

It is expected Higgins will now bring a civil claim for compensation against Senators Linda Reynolds, Michaelia Cash, and the Federal Government. Further details are yet to be released.

The Lehrmann case draws similarities to the highly publicised and controversial rape trial of Luke Lazarus. In that case, the complainant Saxon Mullins endured a court battle spanning five years. In the first trial, a jury found Lazarus guilty, however he was granted a retrial with a judge due to the saturation of media coverage.

In the second trial, Judge Robyn Tupman held that Saxon did not consent however she also found that Lazarus had reasonable grounds for believing that Saxon had consented. The Court of Criminal Appeal later found that Judge Tupman failed to state the steps Lazarus took to determine Saxon’s consent as required by law.

Unlike the Lehrmann trial, the court refused to grand a third trial on the basis that it would be “oppressive” to the accused rather than the complainant.

Mullins has since catalysed landmark law reform which ultimately led to the NSW Government passing the Affirmative Consent Bill.