Bruce Lehrmann has been "publicly maligned as certainly the most prominent rapist" after allegations against him were broadcast, a court has heard.
"For many, the guilt of our client, Mr Lehrmann, is an article of faith," Matthew Richardson SC, representing Mr Lehrmann, said on Wednesday.
Mr Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a February 2021 story on The Project, which revealed Ms Higgins' claims of being raped at Parliament House two years earlier.
Mr Richardson told the Federal Court defamation trial his client was viewed as "probably one of the more revolting predators of the recent history of this country" following the program's airing.
For many, believing Mr Lehrmann's version of events "would be too painful, and perhaps given the stance they have taken, too humiliating".
The television report did not name the former Liberal staffer as the alleged perpetrator but Mr Lehrmann asserts he was identifiable.
He claims the high profile journalist and her employer were "recklessly indifferent to the truth" while "fighting" for the exclusive publication of the sexual assault allegations.
"What happened behind those closed doors has received very significant public attention in this country," Mr Richardson said.
"Mr Lehrmann has lost everything."
In his opening address, Mr Richardson said the sexual assault allegation against his client had "utterly destroyed him".
The barrister said Mr Lehrmann "comes here for justice" to "seek vindication and compensation" from his "most prominent accusers".
The proceedings have been branded by some as a "de facto rape trial", in which Mr Lehrmann, unlike in his criminal trial, will take the witness stand.
Identity was 'obvious'
Mr Richardson said several parts of The Project segment in question identified Mr Lehrmann as the accused man.
His identity "must have been perfectly obvious to anyone who worked in [minister Linda Reynold's] office or had regular dealings with it at that time", the court heard.
The barrister said the "rumour mill" was enlivened after the program aired and that "a large number of people" were trying to figure out who the unnamed man was.
"We say, relentlessly, people from further and further outside the circle would have discovered it was my client," Mr Richardson said.
"We say it was a matter of plain inference he was identified by many people."
While the accused man was painted as "the most odious of predators", Ms Higgins, the court heard, was "canonised by this program" and held up "as the epitome of truthfulness and decency".
Mr Richardson said "not a scintilla of doubt" was applied to Ms Higgins' allegations.
"What she says has happened," the barrister said.
One example given was Ms Wilkinson describing the allegation as a "serious crime".
"That blurs the distinction between a mere allegation and guilt," Mr Richardson said.
The court heard Ten producer Angus Llewellyn had only contacted Mr Lerhmann for comment on the Friday before the program's airing on Monday.
The producer again attempted to make contact on the Monday, using details acquired by Ms Higgins' partner David Sharaz.
"There was a striking contrast between a period of a number of weeks over which the program was prepared and readied and the limited time that was allowed for any comment from my client," Mr Richardson said.
Mr Lehrmann was also pursuing the ABC for damages over its decision to run a live broadcast of Ms Higgins addressing the National Press Club in February 2022.
However, on Wednesday, the court heard that legal action had settled.
"The court notes that a settlement has been agreed between the applicant and Australian Broadcasting Corporation," Justice Michael Lee said.
The judge granted the parties leave the discontinue the proceedings but made no orders regarding costs.
Before proceedings began, Justice Lee ruled the trial would remain open to the public on a YouTube livestream, which "facilitates open justice in the modern courtroom".
The judge said concerns submitted by Ten included: "An inherent risk that an uncontrolled livestream of the trial could prejudice Mr Lehrmann's right to a fair trial in any future criminal proceedings."
"To this end, Network Ten relies upon Mr Lehrmann having been recently identified publicly as having been charged with two sexual offences in relation to events alleged to have taken place in Toowoomba, Queensland, in October 2021."
However, Mr Lee said this concern was misdirected because "Mr Lehrmann has expressed preference for the matters to be live streamed".
Mr Lehrmann reached an out-of-court settlement with News Corp and news.com.au's political editor, Samantha Maiden, in May, over the initial reporting of Ms Higgins' rape allegations.
He has always denied raping Ms Higgins at Parliament House in 2019, when the pair worked for senator Reynolds.
No findings were made against Mr Lehrmann.
The trial continues.
- Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 6247 2525.