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Judge frustrated with tweets attacking Lehrmann’s barrister

Some social media users watching Brittany Higgins’ tense and emotional cross-examination unfold has put the live stream at risk of being pulled down, the judge has warned.

user iconNaomi Neilson 01 December 2023 Big Law
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Over 15,000 people watched the Federal Court’s live stream on YouTube of Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial as his barrister, Steven Whybrow SC, began his cross-examination of Brittany Higgins and tested claims she was raped by his client in March 2019.

The Federal Court’s YouTube channel occasionally streams live from courtrooms for cases of high public interest, but Justice Michael Lee told viewers this could change as soon as Friday morning.

Returning from a break, Justice Lee informed the court there had been posts made on X about counsel’s questioning.

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“I want to just make it perfectly clear to those observing that abuse of any legal practitioners involved in the case will not be tolerated, and if the situation becomes one which I consider the benefits of the live streaming is outweighed … then I will cease the live stream.

“Certain people should be aware that the activity on X is being monitored by the court staff,” Justice Lee said.

The cross-examination became heated a number of times, especially when Mr Whybrow accused Ms Higgins of fabricating her story to “fit the narrative” as more evidence came to light.

Ms Higgins rebuffed this and, at one point, told him it was “insulting and incorrect, but you’re entitled to your opinion”.

This answer prompted Justice Lee to clarify it was not Mr Whybrow’s opinion but that he “has a duty as counsel” to ask the questions.

Mr Whybrow also questioned a $216,000 payment Ms Higgins was due to receive if she completed a book about the alleged rape.

He accused Ms Higgins of having “216,000-something reasons” to “not want to tell the truth, which is that [the alleged rape] didn’t happen”.

Ms Higgins said she wanted it on the record that she would not keep the proceeds for the book – which she said may not ever be finished.

“If I ever actually finish the book, I will donate the 200,000-and-whatever to charity. I don’t care about the money,” Ms Higgins said.

After returning from another break later that day, Justice Lee said there had been a breach of the Federal Court’s orders that no part of the live stream should be recorded or reproduced in any form.

A YouTube account known as “Court Watch Australia” was ordered to delete videos containing Ms Higgins’ cross-examination.

Justice Lee said court staff had asked the account owner to take the videos down, but their comments were deleted.

As of writing, the YouTube videos remain up.

Many comments under the latest video have asked the account to delete them so the live stream is not taken down.

Justice Lee made a specific order that the videos be taken down or he will direct the principal registrar of the court to identify the account holder and consider “what further steps will be taken”.

“I [will] further remind those viewing that notwithstanding my comments concerning social media, there remains a predilection of some people to tweet, not only in respect of witnesses but other court participants,” Justice Lee told viewers.

“Unless that ceases, I’ll consider at the end of the day making a direction that the balance of the testimony is no longer live-streamed.”

Naomi Neilson

Naomi Neilson

Naomi Neilson is a senior journalist with a focus on court reporting for Lawyers Weekly. 

You can email Naomi at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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