Prosecutors in Australia have ended a high-profile legal action against a former government employee accused of raping a colleague in the House of Parliament, saying a new trial would pose a “significant and unacceptable risk” to the woman’s life.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, told reporters on Friday that the risk to Brittany Higgins’ mental health should take precedence over the need for a resolution in the case.
Higgins, a former federal government staffer, claims she was raped in 2019 by former colleague Bruce Lehrmann in the office of Australia’s then-Minister of Defence.
Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to consensual sexual intercourse and claims he never had intercourse with Higgins, consensual or otherwise.
The charges have now been dropped.
Drumgold said he had received “convincing evidence” from two independent medical experts that the “ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution poses a significant and unacceptable risk” to Higgins’ life.
“The evidence makes it clear that this is not limited to the harm of testifying on a witness stand,” he said.
The case went to court in Canberra in October, but the judge ordered a new trial for jury misconduct. The new trial was scheduled to take place in February 2023.
However, Drumgold told reporters on Friday that a new trial was no longer in the public interest.
“This leaves me with no choice but to file a notice refusing to proceed with the retrial of this case, which I did this morning. This ends the prosecution,” Drumgold said.
Higgins is currently in hospital, according to a statement from her friend Emma Webster on Friday.
“The past few years have been difficult and unforgiving,” said Webster. “Britagne is extremely grateful for all the support she has received, especially from our mental health staff.”
In the original trial, the judge acquitted the 12-member jury that deliberated the rape verdict after it was revealed that a juror had investigated the allegations and taken that information to the jury room.
Higgins alleged that Lehrmann raped her in 2019 after the two shared a taxi to Parliament House after a night out with colleagues in the capital.
Higgins approached police shortly after the alleged incident but did not file a formal complaint, citing fears further handling of the case could damage her career.
But in 2021, she spoke to the media and the case made headlines not only because of the location of the alleged attack, but also because of Higgins’ claims that she was discouraged from coming forward to avoid political fallout before the 2019 election .
Lehrmann was arrested and charged last year, but the trial was delayed, in part because of fears that the publicity surrounding the case would deprive him of a fair trial.