Man stands trial for rape in Australian Parliament House

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A judge reminded potential jurors of the importance of impartiality Tuesday at the rape trial of a former Australian government staffer.

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum described the case being heard in the Australian capital, Canberra, as a “cause celebre” due to its high profile.

Bruce Lehrmann is charged with raping fellow staffer Brittany Higgins in the then-Defense Industry Minister Linda Reynolds’ office in Parliament House in March 2019.

“It is a fundamental requirement that a person accused of a serious criminal offence be tried by an impartial jury,” McCallum told potential jurors.

“I’m asking you to consider your own state of mind (with) the issues that will arise in this case and honestly consider if you can be impartial ... and give a true verdict according to the evidence,” she added.

A panel of 16 jurors including four reserves were selected for a trial that is expected to run for between four and six weeks.

Higgins’ allegation and complaints of a lack of support from within the former conservative government ranks provoked nationwide protests about the treatment of women in politics and prompted former Prime Minister Scott Morrison to offer an apology.

Reynolds has been named as a witness in the trial, along with former ministers Michaelia Cash and Steven Ciobo.

Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to sexual intercourse without consent and faces a potential maximum sentence of 12 years in prison if convicted.

The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Higgins has chosen to identify herself in the media.

Morrison's government lost power at May elections after nine years in office.

The Associated Press