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Network Ten’s lawyer criticised for Logies speech conduct

Network Ten’s in-house counsel, who gave advice on the controversial Logies speech, was accused by Justice Michael Lee of not appreciating her professional obligations as a solicitor.

user iconNaomi Neilson 17 April 2024 Corporate Counsel
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In his lengthy judgment, Justice Lee took aim at a number of key players in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial, including Network Ten’s chief litigation counsel, Tasha Smithies, for the advice she gave to The Project host Lisa Wilkinson before the Logies speech.

In the speech, Wilkinson endorsed Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ credibility just days before Lehrmann’s now-abandoned rape trial was due to begin. It had the consequence of delaying the beginning of the trial.

While Network Ten and Wilkinson came out the winners in the Federal Court’s defamation trial, Justice Lee said the speech, and the reasons it was given, “was grossly improper and unjustifiable”.


“It was conduct apt to cause disruption to the criminal justice system and, without the Chief Justice making the orders she did [to delay], could have imperilled Lehrmann’s right to a fair trial,” he said.

The court was told Wilkinson and Smithies sat down with former ACT director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold, who advised them against the speech. Drumgold has since been embroiled in his own controversy, which has led to adverse findings he is fighting.

In her evidence before the court, Smithies said by the time the Logies had rolled around in 2022, Wilkinson was “inextricably intertwined” with Higgins and, in some respects, had “become part of the story”.

Smithies said she was concerned any deviation from Wilkinson’s ongoing and public encouragement of Higgins “was more prejudicial because it would be seen that she was wavering in her support”.

Because of this, Smithies said she saw only two options: Wilkinson used the speech to continue to endorse the credibility before a pending sexual assault trial or act in a way that may be perceived by the ACT Supreme Court as wavering in that support.

Justice Lee said this defied “common sense”.

“It appears it did not occur to her that there was another obvious and far more reasonable option: merely saying thank you, or making an anodyne speech which did not say things such as ‘the truth is, that this honour belongs to Brittany’ and having a network star and witness endorse the complainant’s ‘unwavering courage’ in accusing Lehrmann of rape,” Justice Lee said in judgment.

After the trial was postponed, Network Ten sent a letter with an apology and its “profound regret”, but Justice Lee said this was directed at regret “for the consequences that ensued” and not for the fact that the speech had been given in the first place.

A submission made in the Federal Court that the speech would not have affected the juror pool was also dismissed as being “unsustainable and reflects a worrying continued insistence by Wilkinson to understate the seriousness of what occurred”.

Justice Lee said the “most disturbing aspect” of this part of the case was the “insouciance”, or lack of concern, by Smithies “as to the real criticisms made by the Chief Justice and the repeated fastenings upon Drumgold’s failure as some form of excuse”.

He added that despite there being “ample” time to reflect on the results, Smithies has not recognised the speech could have undermined the administration of justice and caused it to be disrupted.

“It is one thing to make a mistake, even a serious mistake – after all, to err is to be human.

“But I regret to say that the continuing lack of insight by Smithies as to the inappropriateness of her conduct related to the speech reflects, in my view, a lack of appreciation of her professional obligations as a solicitor and her paramount duty to the court and the administration of justice,” Justice Lee said.

“Insofar as Network Ten is concerned, its conduct in relation to the Logies speech given by Wilkinson was egregious.”