The rape allegations that former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has made against an ex co-worker from parliament could lead to a prejudicial outcome for legal proceedings if she participates in an inquiry being led by Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens, prosecutors have warned.
A 26-year-old man, who also has ties to the Liberal party, is due to appear before the ACT Magistrates Court in September. Higgins lodged a formal complaint to police over the alleged crime in February.
A defence lawyer for the accused, who will face one charge of sexual intercourse without consent in relation to the alleged assault in parliament house, says his client “absolutely and unequivocally denies any form of sexual activity took place”.
According to reports by The Guardian, advice from ACT DPP was that Gaetjens’ inquiry (which aims to determine who knew what and when) should not continue. The secretary was asked to undertake the inquiry when Higgins’ 2019 rape allegation, said to have occurred in the ministerial office of then defence minister Linda Reynolds, became public.
Higgins had previously been advised to wait before speaking with Gaetjens until the AFP made a final decision to charge the alleged perpetrator.
The inquiry has also been paused once before when AFP commission informed Gaetjens in March that “it was strongly advisable to hold off finalising the records of interviews with staff until the AFP could clarify whether the criminal investigation into Ms Higgins’ sexual assault allegations may traverse any issues covered by the administrative process he was undertaking”.
Now, Higgins has been warned by ACT DPP that she should “carefully consider not participating in any interview” at the risk that “it could ultimately result in publicity that is prejudicial to legal proceedings whilst the matter is sub curia”.
The Guardian has also seen advice from the ACT DPP suggesting that the entire Gaetjens inquiry should cease.
“In my view, any concerns that Mr Gaetjens held that his investigation could interfere with a police investigation should obviously remain equally valid for legal proceedings whilst the matter is sub curia.
“Further, based on the media surrounding the inquiry, I assume the investigation and resulting report will publish Mr Gaetjens’ investigations and resulting opinions on the details, timing and scope of any complaints made by the complainant.”