Australian prosecutors drop parliament rape case

SYDNEY, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Australian prosecutors said on Friday they will drop the high-profile case of a former government adviser accused of sexually assaulting a colleague in parliament, because the trial was severely harming the complainant's mental health.

Based on "compelling evidence" from two independent medical experts, the prosecution decided not to pursue the trial, which could risk the complainant's life, Shane Drumgold, the director of public prosecutions of the Australian Capital Territory, told a news conference.

Brittany Higgins, an ex-staffer for then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, alleged last year that colleague Bruce Lehrmann had sexually assaulted her in a ministerial office in the Parliament House in Canberra in March 2019.

Reuters does not usually identify victims of sex crimes, but Higgins went public with the accusation.

Lehrmann, charged with sexual intercourse without consent, has denied the charges and pleaded not guilty.

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

He did not take questions from reporters after reading from a prepared statement.

Lehrmann's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Higgins could not immediately be reached.

Her allegation rocked the government of then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who struggled to assuage public anger ahead of a federal election amid reports of sexual abuse, discrimination against women and misconduct in parliament. Morrison lost the May election.

Drumgold said Higgins, during the investigation and trial, had faced "a level of personal attack that I have not seen in over 20 years of doing this work."

The Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory in October discharged the entire jury, saying a juror had gotten access to details that were not submitted as evidence. The new trial was expected to begin in February.

Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by William Mallard

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