Brittany Higgins to return to Australia for mediation talks

Brittany Higgins will return to Australia for the first time since fleeing the country in December with her partner, David Sharaz.

The former Liberal staffer will come face-to-face with her former employer, Linda Reynolds, at mediation talks in Perth next week over a defamation claim, amid the judge’s plea that both sides settle the matter.

But can reveal that the Liberal senator, Ms Reynolds, has failed to take any further steps to secure a court-ordered freeze of Brittany Higgins’ assets in the wake of her move to France.

Media reports in December reported that Ms Reynolds was considering the option before Christmas, and the Liberal senator released a statement suggesting she had engaged French lawyers.

“I am considering my position and awaiting advice from French counsel on my right to enforce an Australian judgment against assets in France,’’ she said at the time.

But since she issued that statement, no further documents appear to have been lodged with the court. Ms Reynolds’ legal team has been contacted for comment.

Ms Reynolds — Ms Higgins’ former boss — is suing both Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz for defamation over social media posts they published on Twitter and Instagram.

Mediation between the parties is listed in the Western Australia’s Supreme Court for March.

Ms Reynolds filed the writ for defamation against Ms Higgins in August of last year after earlier threats that she would sue over two posts published on Twitter and Instagram.

Court documents show Ms Reynolds is also alleging that Ms Higgins’s posts were in breach of a settlement and release signed in March 2021. That settlement allegedly contained a non-disparagement clause.

“Ms Higgins continues to use the media to make defamatory comments about my conduct notwithstanding the existence of facts and evidence to the contrary and without regard to a non-disparagement clause she agreed to,” Ms Reynolds said in a statement.

“The concerns notice issued on 5 July 2023 to Ms Higgins requested, amongst other things, that she refrain from defaming me, however her conduct following receipt of that notice including her post of 20 July and the unsatisfactory response received from her lawyer, is evidence that she has no intention of stopping.”

Last year, her lawyers also wrote to Ms Higgins’ lawyer, Leon Zwier, signalling they planned to ask the WA Supreme Court for the freeze orders, which restrain a party to a case from selling or moving assets while a legal action is still in process.

There is no suggestion that either defendant has done either of those things.

An extract of the letter sent to Ms Higgins was then provided to The Australian newspaper, before further stories emerged that Ms Reynolds was seeking the advice of a French lawyer with regard to whether any orders were enforceable on Ms Higgins’ new French home.

Any such legal order would effectively put a freeze on Ms Higgins disposing of the asset in the event that Ms Reynolds wins her defamation action and obtains a costs order against her former press secretary.

“If such reports are true, we consider that an application for freezing orders is appropriate,’’ the legal letter stated.

“Please advise as a matter of urgency your client’s intentions in respect of her travel to France and your availability to confer in respect of our client’s proposed application.”

But two months on from the release of that correspondence, no further legal steps have been taken. Ms Reynolds will hold mediation talks in Perth with her legal team next week

Ms Higgins, who secured a $2.44 million payout from the Albanese government a year ago on her 28th birthday, is believed to have purchased her first home in the south of France for an estimated $600,000.

The federal government swiftly paid Ms Higgins $2.44 million last year on a “no admissions” basis after her abandoned rape trial and following a complaint against her former bosses, Ms Reynolds and fellow Liberal senator Michaelia Cash.

Both denied any wrongdoing.

A legal document outlining the compensation deal was released by the Federal Court confirms that the commonwealth did not admit liability when it agreed to pay Ms Higgins the $2.44 million.

“Without any admission of liability, the parties have agreed to resolve all claims by Ms Higgins against the beneficiaries relating in any way to the circumstances on the terms, set out in this deed, and note Ms Higgins does not attend to make a claim for compensation,” the document states.

Ms Reynolds maintains she was stopped from disputing the claims before the payout was made.

The documents reveal that Ms Higgins legal team recommenced negotiations over the $2.44 million compensation payout on December 7, 2022, just five days after the rape trial was discontinued.

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