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

A Supreme Court judge is expected to intervene in the defamation case former defence minister Linda Reynolds has brought against Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz before it becomes yet 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 says damaged her reputation.

Justice Marcus Solomon – who previously warned the parties of the ‘human cost of this litigation’ – is said to be so concerned about the matter going to trial that he may participate in the mediation session scheduled to begin in Perth on Tuesday.

If Justice Solomon is involved in the court-ordered mediation and the parties are unable to reach an agreement, he will not be able to preside over the six-week defamation trial in July.

Typically mediation is handled by a court registrar, but The Australian reports Justice Solomon is likely to intervene personally.

His concerns are justified: if the matter goes to trial, it’ll be another emotionally taxing case for Ms Higgins, who already gave evidence at the Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial last year – a matter that has yet to be decided – and, before that, at Mr Lehrmann’s criminal trial in late 2022.

A Supreme Court judge is expected to intervene in the defamation case former defence minister Linda Reynolds has brought 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 abandoned due to juror misconduct. Mr Lehrmann has always strongly denied the allegations.

Ms Reynolds’ defamation case centres on tweets by Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz that she claims imply she pressured Ms Higgins not to proceed with a police complaint regarding the alleged rape, and that she interfered with Mr Lehrmann’s trial.

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

‘I just wanted to take the opportunity to say, again, how important it is that the parties invest whatever they can to resolve this matter,’ he told the court.

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

Should the trial go ahead, a list of subpoenas issued by Senator Reynolds’ lawyers includes several key players from Mr Lehrmann’s defamation trial, which wrapped up in the Federal Court in December but is still waiting on a decision.

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

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

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

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

They also discussed whether Justice Solomon should oversee the mediation or trial, which is provisionally listed for six weeks from July 24.

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

Justice Solomon repeated his earlier concerns about the human cost of a trial and urged the parties to work together to resolve the matter before it gets to trial. 

Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz left Australia to start a new life in France in December, after she had completed her evidence at Mr Lehrmann’s defamation trial.

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

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

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

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

Senator Reynolds claims she was also defamed by Mr Sharaz’s reply to a comment on her Facebook page that asked how she was still in politics having ‘destroyed’ Ms Higgins.

The commenter added, ‘You’re a monster who deserves to be in jail.’

Mr Sharaz responded: ‘Thanks for reminding her. I hope she hears this every day until she dies’, the senator’s statement of claim says.

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

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

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

Prosecutors decided not to pursue further action, citing concerns of the impact it may have 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.