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The high-profile trial of a former Australian parliamentarian accused of raping his colleague came to an abrupt end on Thursday (local time) – and without a verdict – after a judge said a jurors consulted outside research against her direction.
The The BBC reports that court officials in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, have discovered an academic study left behind by a member of the jury during the “daily cleaning” of the judges room.
Chief Justice Lucy MacCallum, who has repeatedly warned jurors not to heed media reports and public discussions of the trial, said the possibility of undue influence “is not a risk” that I can accept.” She dismissed the jury after five days of deliberation and 12 days of evidence hearing.
The retrial date has been scheduled for February.
Higgins says her life was “open to the world to see”
Defendant Bruce Lehrmann has repeatedly denied allegations that he raped Brittany Higgins on the minister’s sofa after a night of drinking in 2019.
Higgins made the allegations public in 2021, spark a wave allegations, investigations and protests, including what is labeled Australia’s #MeToo movement.
The trial gave the Australian public a rare opportunity to see inside a sexual assault trial, an organization often shrouded in secrecy to protect identities.
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The press reported on this case detailed date of witness testimonyincluding two senators who denied there was any political motive to initially keep Higgin’s accusations private from the public.
Higgins sat cross-examined for several days, during which defense attorneys argued she did not remember the full details of what happened.
Tearful speech outside the courtHiggins describes the criminal justice system as “asymmetrical.”
“My life has been publicly scrutinized, open to the world to see,” she said. “He can afford to choose to remain silent in court, with his head bowed in a notebook, completely detached. He has never faced a single question in court.”
Lehrmann’s legal team said in a statement they brought Higgins’ remarks to the attention of the Australian Federal Police as a potential contempt of court offence.
Court challenges are the next phase of Australia’s #MeToo movement
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Michelle Arrow, a student of politics, gender and history at Macquarie University, said the Higgins case is being viewed as the first major criminal trial since the #MeToo movement erupted in the country.
Several #MeToo allegations that were made public in 2018 were sued in the civil court system through defamation lawsuits, placing a burden of evidence on the person making the alleged misconduct. One of such accusations led to the setting of a record of 2 million dollars Award for actor Geoffrey Rush.
“The [defamation laws] Arrow told NPR earlier this month.
“With the Higgins trial, it will be interesting to see if criminal law can be a vehicle for some women to achieve justice.”
If the retrial takes place in February, it will mark two years since Higgins first went public with his allegations.