Will Brittany Higgins ever be prepared to step out of the limelight? Having claimed she could never work again Higgins, presumably along with her big stash of compensation, this week popped up in Geneva posing in Gucci heels in front of the UN building where she has started an internship. Julia Gillard’s feminist network, which got her the gig, clearly has no problem with the fact that this woman has been exposed as a lying, malicious dropkick who plotted to use her dubious rape accusation to bring down a government. It reminds me of the high-flyers who happily hobnobbed with Jeffrey Epstein even after his evil behaviour was becoming known.
But such nonsense aside, we are all awaiting the report of the ACT inquiry into the handling of the Higgins case which is due to be released at the end of this month. Before the news hits about what the very impressive Commissioner Walter Sofronoff concluded about this toxic mess of a trial, it’s timely to consider what the extraordinary inquiry has revealed about what was really going on.
The long month of hearings was quite a show. Who could resist watching the cocky prosecutor Drumgold get his comeuppance, forced into taking extended leave after his wrong-doing was exposed day after day? Or the argy bargy between our country’s top barristers, jostling to protect key witnesses. And, of course, the revelations about Higgins and her sleazy boyfriend bullying the police. All vastly entertaining but hardly the main game.
The story that really matters is what the inquiry revealed about the stinking ideological swamp that has engulfed our criminal law system. Hobbling of police officers, rewriting rules of evidence, secret committees forcing all rape cases through to court. Here was the new victim-centred justice system fully on display, showing utter contempt for the presumption of innocence or rights of the accused.
But the real revelation was the key role played in this new system by the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates who had police and prosecutors dancing to her tune – her victim support role a cover for her far more ambitious objective of remaking the way the criminal justice system handles sexual assault.
Yates’ antics had me reeling since they exposed just how completely a criminal law system can be subverted when placed in the hands of an ideologue.
We had all witnessed this po-faced creature, trotting every day into court alongside Brittany Higgins – an act which Bruce Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow described as like wearing a “Bruce is guilty” t-shirt. This woman is a lawyer, yet we saw her standing by while Higgins ignored the judge’s contempt of court rules to spew out an attack on Lehrmann and the justice system after the case was declared a mistrial.
We didn’t know half of it. What’s gobsmacking is the inquiry revealed that Higgins had prepared that statement in advance and shown it to Yates. (And to Drumgold!) Sofronoff was clearly incredulous that, in that circumstance, Yates just stood by and let Higgins deliver that speech. “Did it cross your mind that amongst the things she would say would be words to the effect that, ‘Bruce Lehrmann is guilty?’” he asked.
Yates responded that she was simply concerned about getting Higgins through her stressful day and wasn’t focused on her speech. Yates had made arrangements for how and where Higgins would deliver that speech yet when the inquiry’s counsel put to her that it was “problematic for you as Victim of Crime Commissioner to stand next to her publicly when she made those comments,” Yates said she hadn’t thought about it.
When asked whether in retrospect she should have acted differently, she said “she would not have made a different decision” about accompanying Higgins to court. This woman appears to be a zealot, totally convinced that her cause outweighs legal principles. And indeed, of the right of Higgins to trample all over Bruce Lehrmann’s presumption of innocence.
As well as the Victims of Crime Commissioner, Yates is a member of the ACT Human Rights Commission – dual roles which you might have thought would cause some conflict. But Yates explained to the Inquiry she had that sorted. She proudly described how, in 2021, after extensive policy work and consultation, the ACT had introduced a Charter of Rights, which promotes new rights for complainants designed “to balance” classic human rights - presumably like the presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial.
The Charter of Rights tilts the scales firmly in the complainant’s favour. “In practical terms we start from a position of belief,” Yates explained. Belief in the woman’s story.
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