The trial of Bruce Lehrmann over allegations he raped Brittany Higgins has come to an end, after new evidence was presented showing that the “ongoing trauma” of the trial was an unacceptable risk to Ms Higgins.

Shane Drumgold, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said on Friday that he had reviewed new medical evidence and made the “difficult decision” to file a notice declining a retrial.

“I have recently received compelling evidence from two independent medical experts, that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents an unacceptable and significant risk to the life of the complainant,’’ he said during a press conference.

“The evidence makes it clear this is not limited to the harm of giving evidence in the witness box, rather applies whether or not the complainant is required to re-enter the witness box in the retrial.

“Whilst the pursuit of justice is essential for my office and the community, the safety of a complainant in a sexual assault matter, must be paramount.

“In light of the compelling independent medical opinions, and balancing all factors, I have made the difficult decision that it is no longer in the public interest to pursue a prosecution at the risk of the complainant’s life.

“This has left me no other options but to file a notice declining to proceed with the retrial of prosecution, which I have done this morning.

“This brings this prosecution to an end.”

Mr Drumgold said that the investigation and trial has resulted in “a level of personal attack” against Ms Higgins that he hadn’t seen in his 20-year career.

“She has done so with bravery, grace and dignity, and it is my hope that this now stop; that Miss Higgins now be allowed to heal,” he continued.

Mr Drumgold noted that DPP policy states that the decision to prosecute should be made “after due consideration”, shouldn’t be a light or automatic process, and that it can be understood as occurring over two stages.

“First, does the evidence offer reasonable prospects of conviction?” he said.

“If so, is it in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution?

“This is a view I still hold today.”

The first trial ended in late October, with the jury being dismissed and no verdict given after a juror brought research material into the courtroom.

Lehrmann had pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent, with his lawyers telling the court that no sexual activity took place.

The second trial was due to commence on February 20, 2023.

The decision to drop charges against Lehrmann comes after it was revealed that Mr Drumgold was seeking “urgent” legal changes to ensure that Ms Higgins’ evidence could be played in court during a retrial to avoid her taking the witness stand again.

Under current legislation, there was uncertainty as to whether a recording of Ms Higgins’ cross-examination could be used in the retrial.

The proposed changes would allow sexual assault complainents who give evidence in open court – like Ms Higgins did – to have their evidence played to the jury in the same way that it would be if complainants in remote locations are recorded.

It comes amid criticism of the criminal justice system and courts over the re-traumatising experience sexual assault survivors undergo while giving evidence.

In a study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology, they noted that giving evidence in court can be traumatic and stressful for a number of reasons.

“The need for victims to confront the person alleged to have assaulted them, the difficulties of talking about the circumstances surrounding the assault and the embarrassment of being questioned in public about sexual matters can make committals and trials highly traumatic experiences for victims,” they wrote.

“In the event that a mistrial occurs or the matter is referred for a further hearing at appeal, the trauma is exacerbated because the complainant is required to go through the entire process again.

“Such a prospect may not only discourage sexual assault victims from being willing to give testimony, but may also discourage victims from reporting the sexual assault to police in the first place.”

They found that jurors presented with evidence face-to-face, through CCTV footage, or in a pre-recorded video weren’t being affected by the mode of evidence on their perception of the survivor or when making decisions.

Images: Getty Images

This article first appeared on OverSixty.