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Huge development in Linda Reynolds’ defamation case against Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz – as judge looks set to make a surprising move

A High Court judge is expected to intervene in the defamation case brought by former Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds against Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz before it becomes another messy, expensive legal battle.

Senator Reynolds is suing Ms Higgins and her fiancé Mr Sharaz for defamation in the Supreme Court of Western Australia over posts they each made on social media that she claims damaged her reputation.

Judge Marcus Salomon – who previously warned the parties of the ‘human costs of this lawsuit’ – is said to be so concerned about the case coming to trial that he may take part in the mediation session due to start in Perth on Tuesday.

If Judge Solomon is involved in the court-ordered mediation and the parties fail to reach an agreement, he will be unable to preside over the six-week defamation trial in July.

Usually mediation is handled by a court clerk, but The Australian reports that Judge Solomon will likely intervene personally.

His concerns are justified: if the case goes to trial, it will once again be an emotionally taxing case for Ms Higgins, who already gave evidence last year at the defamation trial of Bruce Lehrmann – a case on which no judgment has yet been reached – and before that, during the criminal trial against Mr Lehrmann at the end of 2022.

A Supreme Court judge is expected to intervene in the defamation case brought by former Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds against Brittany Higgins (left) and David Sharaz (right)

That criminal trial – launched after Ms Higgins accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her at Parliament House in March 2019 – was halted due to juror misconduct. Mr. Lehrmann has always strongly denied the allegations.

Ms Reynolds’ defamation case centers on tweets from Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz in which she claims she pressured Ms Higgins not to complain to police about the alleged rape, and that she interfered with the process of Mr Lehrmann.

Speaking in the WA Supreme Court in late January, Justice Solomon had urged the parties to settle the case at the upcoming mediation hearing on March 5.

“I just wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate how important it is that the parties invest everything they can to resolve this issue,” he told the court.

If the two-day mediation this week is not successful, a six-week defamation trial will follow in four months.

Should the trial proceed, the list of subpoenas issued by Senator Reynolds’ lawyers includes a number of key players from the defamation trial against Mr Lehrmann, which concluded in the Federal Court in December but is still awaiting a decision.

They include Lisa Wilkinson, the former host of The Project, who aired Ms Higgins’ rape allegations in 2021; Samantha Maiden, the News Corp journalist who first broke the story; and Channel Ten producer Angus Llewellyn.

1709553686 380 Huge development in Linda Reynolds defamation case against Brittany Higgins

Linda Reynolds (pictured) says the social media posts have damaged her reputation

The defamation case involving Senator Reynolds and former political staffer Ms Higgins and her partner were last heard in court on January 30.

Lawyers for the parties appeared in the WA Supreme Court to set key dates in preparation for a trial should the mediation scheduled for March 5 fail.

They also discussed whether Judge Solomon should oversee the mediation or trial, which is tentatively scheduled for six weeks starting July 24.

He cannot legally do both and Ms. Higgins and Mr. Sharaz want him to handle the mediation, which Senator Reynolds opposed.

Judge Solomon reiterated his previous concerns about the human cost of litigation and urged the parties to work together to resolve the case before it goes to trial.

Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz left Australia to start a new life in France in December after she completed her testimony at the defamation trial of Mr Lehrmann.

However, they have returned to Australia for the civil case with Senator Reynolds.

Reynolds had reportedly sought advice from French lawyers about her right to enforce an Australian judgment against assets the couple may have in France.

She is suing Sharaz over tweets he made and a Facebook comment in 2022.

Among the defamatory allegations against Mr Sharaz’s tweets were that Senator Reynolds pressured Ms Higgins not to make a genuine complaint to the police, is “a hypocrite in her advocacy for women’s interests and empowerment”, interfered with bullied the trial of Bruce Lehrmann and Mrs. Higgins.

Senator Reynolds claims she was also defamed by Mr Sharaz’s response to a comment on her Facebook page asking how she was still in politics after ‘destroying’ Ms Higgins.

The commenter added, “You are a monster who deserves to be in jail.”

Mr Sharaz replied: “Thank you for reminding her. I hope she hears this every day until she dies,” the senator’s statement of claim said.

Ms Higgins is accused of posting defamatory material on her Instagram and Twitter accounts on two occasions.

Ms Higgins alleged she was raped by Mr Lehrmann in 2019 in Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office, where he also worked as a staffer.

Mr Lehrmann consistently denied the charge, and his trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors decided not to take further action because they were concerned about its potential impact on Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Mr Lehrmann has since been charged with raping a woman in Queensland and his lawyers have indicated he will plead not guilty.