Prosecutors in Australia have dropped a high-profile case against a former government official accused of raping a colleague in Parliament House, saying a retrial would pose a “significant and unacceptable risk” to the woman’s life.
Director of Public Prosecutions for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Shane Drumgold told reporters on Friday that the risk to Brittany Higgins’ mental health should come before the need to solve the case.
Higgins, a former federal government employee, claimed she was raped by former colleague Bruce Lerman in the office of Australia’s then defense minister in 2019.
Lerman has pleaded not guilty to non-consensual sex and claims he never engaged in intercourse with Higgins, consensual or otherwise.
The charge has now been dropped.
Drumgold said he had received “compelling evidence” from two independent medical examiners that “the continued trauma associated with this prosecution poses a significant and unacceptable risk” to Higgins’ life.
“The evidence clearly shows that this is not limited to the harm of giving evidence on the witness stand,” he said.
The case was heard in Canberra in October but the judge ordered a retrial due to juror misconduct. The retrial was due to take place in February 2023.
However, Drumgold told reporters on Friday that a retrial was no longer in the public interest.
“This left me with no option but to file a notice of refusal to proceed with the retrial of this matter, which I did this morning. That puts an end to the prosecution,” Drumgold said.
Higgins is currently in hospital, according to a statement from her friend Emma Webster on Friday.
“The last few years have been tough and relentless,” Webster said. “Brittany is extremely grateful for all the support she has received, especially from our psychiatric staff.”
In the original trial, the judge dismissed the 12-member jury that deliberated on the rape conviction after it was revealed that a juror had researched the allegations and taken that information into the jury room.
Higgins claims Lerman raped her in 2019 after the pair took a taxi to the Houses of Parliament after a night out with colleagues in the capital.
Higgins went to the police soon after the alleged incident, but did not file a formal complaint, citing concerns that pursuing the matter could harm 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 ahead of the 2019 election.
Lerman was arrested and charged last year, but the trial was delayed, in part because of concerns that the publicity surrounding the case meant he would not receive a fair hearing.