‘Lawyer X’ Royal Commission Makes Recommendations for Change

by Sonia Hickey
Niccola Gobbo

After 129 days of testimony from more than 80 witnesses, the Royal Commission into the use of Nicola Gobbo (Lawyer X) as a police informant has delivered its final report.

The report ultimately makes 111 recommendations, including that:

  • The Victorian Government conduct a review of how the state’s police force uses its power,
  • The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) be given more money to bring corrupt individuals and bodies to account, and
  • Reporting of misconduct be made mandatory for the legal profession.

The report further recommends that a special investigator be appointed to determine if Nicola Gobbo and Victoria Police had broken any laws by their conduct and, if so, that they be prosecuted over that conduct.

Police were under pressure  to ‘get results’

The Royal Commission found that the use of Ms Gobbo as a secret informer was a “systemic failure” and could not have happened without “critical failures of leadership and governance in Victoria Police”, which was, at the time, in the middle of the gangland wars and with the death toll mounting, under significant pressure to get results and end the bloodshed.

However, what’s abundantly clear is that the use of Ms Gobbo as an informant was not ever a justifiable means for securing convictions.

Her duplicity has tainted approximately 1200 cases, including where Ms Gobbo was acting as a client’s lawyer, and others where she may have been representing one of their co-accused. As a result of her breaching ‘client privilege’ and her duty to act in the best interests of her clients, many previously convicted criminals may now walk free.

Convictions overturned

In July 2019, the Court of Appeal quashed the murder conviction of Faruk Orman, who spent 12 years in prison over the murder of underworld figure Victor Peirce in 2002.

Another man, Zlate Cvetanovski, who spent close to a decade behind bars for high-level drug trafficking, has also successfully appealed his conviction – which has since been quashed.

The legal success of both men has buoyed the hopes of several jailed underworld figures, including convicted kingpin Tony Mokbel, who also counted Ms Gobbo as their barrister.

Commissioner Margaret McMurdo was scathing of the fact that more than 100 people within Victoria’s Police Force were aware of Ms Gobbo as an informant between 2005 – 2009, and yet did not report the matter or raise concerns.

Ms Gobbo’s involvement ‘inexcusable.’

Ms Gobbo has tried to divert the responsibility for her conduct to Victoria Police, saying:

“I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, the greatest one being seduced into trusting Victoria Police almost 20 years ago…. From the beginning, I was groomed, controlled and manipulated by officers of Victoria Police, including those of the highest ranks.”

However, Commissioner McMurdo found Gobbo’s conduct to be ‘inexcusable,’ adding: “Her breach of her obligations as a lawyer has undermined the administration of justice, compromised criminal convictions, damaged the standing of Victoria Police and the legal profession.

The lawyer’s conduct has “shaken public trust and confidence in Victoria’s criminal justice system”, the Commissioner found

Final recommendations

The Royal Commission final report recommends that:

  • Legal advice must be sought before a source is registered,
  • There must be “exceptional and compelling” reasons to register a source, for example a threat to national security or a threat to human life or welfare,
  • A source must be authorised by the chief commissioner, or a delegate,
  • The use of a source must be “proportionate”, and
  • Lawyers to be obliged to report suspected misconduct.

Broader powers for IBAC

The Commissioner has also recommended that: Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) be given “necessary and reasonable” powers, including the ability to:

  • Enter any Victoria Police site after notifying the chief commissioner
  • Have full access to the force’s human source records and systems
  • Request Victoria Police employees to answer questions and show documents

The final report further recommends that the Government conduct a review into how Victoria Police uses its powers within the next two years.

The Government has committed to implementing the recommendations in their entirety.

In October 2020, 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 of legal practitioners.

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Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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