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Published Time: 02.04.2024 - 20:01:36 Modified Time: 02.04.2024 - 20:01:36

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Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann allegedly leaked thousands of pages of confidential documents from his criminal rape trial to the Seven Network, including personal text messages, then lied it under oath, a court has heard.

The explosive last-minute evidence was tendered by Network Ten in three affidavits sworn at the weekend by Taylor Auerbach, a former producer of Seven’s flagship current affairs show Spotlight.

There were 12,000 watching the after-hours Federal Court livestream on Tuesday night, where Justice Michael Lee allowed Ten to reopen its case and bring Mr Auerbach to court to give evidence on Thursday

Taylor Auerbach and Bruce Lehrmann. James Brickwood

Justice Lee was due to deliver his final judgment in the blockbuster defamation case on Thursday, but it will now be delayed until next week.

Matthew Collins, KC, representing Ten, said Mr Lehrmann allegedly handed thousands of pages of documents that were given to him in an “e-brief” by the Australian Federal Police, which had charged him with raping a colleague in Parliament House in 2019. Mr Lehrmann has always denied the accusations, and the criminal trial in late 2022 was aborted after juror misconduct.

Dr Collins said Mr Auerbach had identified Mr Lehrmann as the source of confidential documents. “This evidence, if accepted, is an outrageous contempt of court furthered by giving instructions which must have been wrong to solicitors and senior counsel,” Dr Collins told the court on Tuesday.

Mr Lehrmann is suing Ten and its former TV presenter Lisa Wilkinson over a February 2021 episode of The Project, in which former parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins was interviewed allegedly being raped in a Parliament House office in March 2019.

Dr Matt Collins, KC, centre, with Ten’s legal team on Tuesday evening. James Brickwood

Mr Lehrmann was not named in the broadcast but argues there was enough detail to identify him as the alleged rapist. He has always denied the allegations.

Mr Lehrmann is seeking extensive damages, saying the reports destroyed his reputation and future career prospects. The trial against Ten concluded in December while Justice Lee deliberated the significant amount of evidence presented during the case.

“This is clearly fresh evidence,” Justice Lee said. “It may or may not be material to the determination of the proceedings. It is not simply a matter that goes to the credibility of the applicant.” He cited the “intense public interest” in the case in deciding to allow the new evidence.

Seven’s Spotlight has been a controversial sidebar to the high-profile defamation case. In June and August last year, Seven aired two episodes in which Mr Lehrmann was interviewed at length the allegations.

Seven denied paying Mr Lehrmann, only for it to emerge in the defamation trial that it had, in fact, been paying him $4000 a fortnight – and will until June.

Mr Auerbach was a producer on the show but has since left Seven and fallen out with his former colleagues, including journalist Steve Jackson, who was nearly hired as NSW Police media chief, and executive producer Mark Llewellyn.

He reportedly used Seven’s corporate credit card to spend thousands of dollars on Thai massages for himself and Mr Lehrmann – claims Mr Lehrmann has described as “bizarre”.

But Spotlight’s involvement may prove important because of a legal concept known as the Harman undertaking. The Harman undertaking ensures evidence that is released in one court case cannot be used in other ways.

In court in November, Mr Lehrmann was directly asked whether he gave additional material to Seven for its broadcast – texts between Higgins and others, CCTV footage from Parliament House in 2019, or pre-interview recordings with The Project’s producers. “No, I just gave an interview,” he replied.

Those answers, and responses from his barristers to Ten’s lawyers, may now form part of the defamation case.

Mr Lehrmann also sued News Corp for its coverage of Ms Higgins’ allegations, and the ABC for airing her address to the National Press Club. Both these cases have settled and the ex-Liberal staffer received $445,000 in legal costs under the agreements.

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