A long-awaited sexual assault trial began in Australia on Tuesday in a case that has raised questions about the culture in the nation’s Parliament and the actions of ministers when the claims surfaced.
Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to having sex without consent in connection with the alleged assault of his former co-worker Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in Canberra in March 2019.
The alleged assault was said to have taken place at the former defense minister’s office, a location that has drawn criticism and questions about security levels within the nation’s political center.
Witnesses are expected to include politicians, security officials and the journalists who broke the story in February 2021, when Higgins went public with the allegations.
ACT Supreme Court Justice Lucy McCallum is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks before a 12-member jury bows out to deliver its verdict.
The prosecution’s case is being handled by the ACT’s director of public prosecution, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lehrmann acted without consent. The charge of sexual intercourse without consent carries a possible prison sentence of up to 12 years.
The trial had been repeatedly delayed, in part due to media commentary on the high-profile case that drew widespread press attention when Higgins came forward.
Since then, Higgins has become a prominent advocate for women’s rights.