Brittany Higgins’s Twitter followers may have to excuse themselves from jury in alleged rape trial, judge says

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Members of the jury panel in the trial of the man accused of raping Brittany Higgins will be asked to excuse themselves by the judge if they follow Higgins on Twitter or saw her speak about the allegations at any public event.

The ACT supreme court chief justice, Lucy McCallum, revealed her thinking about empanelment of the jury at a brief pretrial mention on Friday, saying she would ask potential jurors “to search their souls about whether they can be impartial”.

Bruce Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Higgins, a former Liberal staffer, at Parliament House in Canberra in 2019. The case goes to trial on 4 October for up to seven weeks of hearings.

On Friday McCallum told the court she intended to tell members of the jury panel they should seek to excuse themselves if they attended any event at which Higgins had spoken publicly about the allegations.

“I also thought to flush out any person who follows Ms Higgins on Twitter,” she said.

“Anyone who has participated in those events or follows her on Twitter should come forward and seek to be excused, or at least for consideration as to whether they can [participate] – it would depend why they were there, if it was a security guard or journalist they wouldn’t necessarily need to be excused.”

McCallum said she intended to remove anyone who has “effectively indicated … that they’re a champion of the cause” or anyone with strong views on the other side.

“It’s hard – it’s very hard,” she said. “I’m just going to have to ask people to search their souls and ask if they can be impartial.”

Beyond that, potential jurors would only be given general guidance including to “listen carefully to the witnesses”, she said.

McCallum said she will not seek to exclude “anyone who knows who Lisa Wilkinson is”, referring to the Channel 10 journalist who conducted a TV interview with Higgins.

McCallum asked Lehrmann’s defence team to provide any material she might need other than the crown’s witness list before preparing remarks to the jury to identify “any other person I should mention or connection that I should seek to delve into”.

The matter was stood over to Thursday 29 September for McCallum to deal with final pretrial issues including a possible privilege claim over material created by the Australia federal police relating to Higgins’ interviews.

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