Disgraced criminal defence barrister Nicola Gobbo is likely to be struck of Victoria’s roll of legal practitioners for gross violations of her professional obligations to clients, including breaching client legal privilege, providing legal services in circumstances where there is a conflict of interest and breaching her duty to act in the best interests of her clients.
The lawyer has been in hiding since 2014, and is not believed to have practised law in recent years.
Finally, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner initiated proceedings in the state’s Supreme Court earlier this month to obtain an order that Ms Gobbo’s name be removed from the roll.
Under the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act, the Supreme Court can order the removal of a barrister from the roll on its own motion, or on the recommendation of a regulatory authority or tribunal.
When a lawyer is struck off the roll, they can no longer practise by giving legal advice, attending courts to run cases, or perform any other legal work.
Ms Gobbo in hiding
Against all advice, in particular with regard to her own safety and the safety of her children, Ms Gobbo has returned to Australia last year, but she lives in hiding and fear, after it was revealed that she was a police informer between 2005 and 2009, snitching on her clients, some of Victoria’s high profile criminals. Information she provided to police was instrumental in ensuring the successful prosecution of criminals like Carl Williams and Tony Mokbel.
Police tried to suppress the identity of ‘Lawyer X’ but last year the High Court determined it should be made public. After name suppression was lifted, the Victorian Department of Prosecutions (DPP) wrote to a handful of Ms Gobbo’s former clients, telling them their convictions could be undermined by police use of their lawyer as an informant. Those who could potentially have their convictions overturned include Tony Mobel and at least another nine Mokbel associates including his brother, Milad Mokbel, money launder Kamel Khoder, and high-level drug trafficker Rob Karam. Ms Gobbo played a part in all of their convictions.
More than 1200 cases to be reviewed
Information that Ms Gobbo shared with police was supposed to be protected by lawyer client privilege. One such recipient was former underworld drug lord Tony Mokbel who is serving 30 years imprisonment for a range of offences, mostly related to drug trafficking.
Police’s use of the lawyer as a source wasn’t fully appreciated until the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants (RCMPI) hearings last year.
As a result of the investigative work by the royal commission, the number of cases to be reassessed has grown exponentially. More than 1200 cases are being reviewed.
The roles of former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton who retired in June this year and former commissioner Simon Overland in the scandal has also been under scrutiny.
The Royal Commission heard that despite the fact that Ms Gobbo’s role as an informer was known in the highest levels of leadership of Victoria Police, they didn’t seek to obtain legal advice about the use of a criminal defence lawyer as an informant until 2011, and at this time, it was not to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice or the protection of convictions.
However, out of concerns arising from the use of Lawyer X and her information, in particular that it would expose the situation and tarnish police reputations.
Undermining the rule of law
In retaining Ms Gobbo as an informant, Police have seriously undermined the integrity of the justice system, and the public confidence placed in the system, have perverted the course of justice and acted unethically.
But so far, Ms Gobbo seems to be the only person to be held accountable – her career, life and reputation in tatters. And it is still possible that she could face charges after the conclusion of the Royal Commission, and if so, then it’s also possible that police officers involved could also be charged.
In June this year, the RCMPI was given more time and an additional $11.5 million funding to deliver its final report. This report and recommendations are now due to be presented to the Governor of Victoria at the end of next month.