The Liberal senator Linda Reynolds and her former political staffer Brittany Higgins’ high-profile defamation case will go to trial in August.

The former defence minister, who plans to retire from politics at the next election, is suing Higgins over a series of social media posts she says damaged her reputation.

Mediation has failed to resolve the case, which returned to the Western Australia supreme court for a directions hearing on Wednesday.

A trial date of 2 August was agreed on, with the matter set down for about four weeks to accommodate more than 20 witnesses and parliamentary sitting dates.

The former prime minister Scott Morrison could be called as a witness, the senator’s lawyer has previously said, along with other members of the federal Liberal party, including senators Michaelia Cash and Wendy Askew.

Although a trial date has been fixed, the parties could choose to attempt mediation again to resolve the case.

Justice Paul Tottle permitted Reynolds to expand her claim to include a third incidence of defamation which is an allegedly defamatory tweet published by Higgins’ now-husband, David Sharaz, in January 2022.

Some of the other matters expected to be heard at trial are a claim Higgins was isolated and traumatised while campaigning for Reynolds in Perth before the 2019 election, several months after she alleges she was raped by Bruce Lehrmann in Parliament House.

Bennett said polling booth staff and Reynolds’ family had provided evidence to the contrary about claims of a lack of support, along with photos of Higgins at parties and her boss’s birthday celebration about the same time.

“Senator Reynolds did provide support, every support to Ms Higgins,” he said as he made submissions on some of the particulars and evidence in the case.

Reynolds last week said she was determined to get justice over the alleged defamation and Higgins’ claims had “taken a huge toll on my mental and my physical health”.

She said it was essential all parties accepted the findings of the federal court justice Michael Lee regarding Lehrmann “so that the many people who have been damaged by this whole saga can get justice and to get peace”.

She said it was possible a settlement could still be reached and called for Higgins to admit she was wrong and apologise.

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Lee in April delivered his judgment in Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and the journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

He found on the balance of probabilities Lehrmann did rape Higgins, but the allegation of a political cover-up “was objectively short on facts but long on speculation”.

Lehrmann is appealing against the federal court judgment.

Reynolds was also pursuing Sharaz for defamation but he announced in April he would no longer fight the case and consented to judgment.

The former minister claimed he had also defamed her in a series of social media posts.

Sharaz was ordered to delete three tweets, a Facebook post and an Instagram story.

The damages Sharaz will have to pay after his admission will be decided after Higgins’ defamation trial.

Lehrmann denies the sexual assault allegation. His criminal trial was aborted because of juror misconduct and Higgins’ mental health was cited as the reason for no retrial.

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Guardian

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