The inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann – which was requested by the ACT’s Chief Prosecutor, Shane Drumgold – has ended as sensationally as it began, with findings that Drumgold engaged in “serious misconduct” by, among other things, lying to a Supreme Court judge in court and withholding crucial information from the defence; evidence which could have proven that the darling of Australia’s #metoo movement, Brittany Higgins, has a problem with the truth, which in turn undermines her credibility regarding her sexual assault claim.
Drumgold has now resigned from his position, but his arrogance and brazenness in calling for the inquiry has many questioning his conduct in other prosecutions, and calling for his criminal prosecution.
The Sofronoff Inquiry handed its final report to the ACT Government last week, and it was indeed a bombshell – with inferences Drumgold engaged in the criminal offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice in his quest to secure a conviction against Mr Lehrmann at all costs.
Media stuff up
At the same time as the government received the Sofronoff report, so did several media outlets.
While it’s understood that those media outlets were told the report was ‘embargoed’ (not to be published until a future date) they simply couldn’t help themselves (as we’ve witnessed several times throughout the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann) and published various parts of it anyway.
As a result of this incredible stuff up, Shane Drumgold had not even seen a copy of the final report before it was made into news headlines and splashed onto social media pages.
Drumgold refutes findings
Mr Drumgold says he was denied procedural fairness by the leak, and the ACT Government has had to issue a mea culpa in recent days, while also accepting Shane Drumgold’s resignation, because for him to remain in the position was “no longer tenable” according to the ACT Attorney General.
Shane Drumgold has released a statement acknowledging that he made mistakes but he has strongly disputed that he “engaged in deliberate or underhanded conduct in the trial or was dishonest.”
“Although I accept my conduct was less than perfect, my decisions were all made in good faith, under intense and sometimes crippling pressure, conducted within increasingly unmanageable workloads,” Mr Drumgold says.
Chief prosecutor’s conduct was “grossly unethical” and amounted to “serious misconduct”
The findings of the board of inquiry are very serious. They suggest that Shane Drumgold had engaged in “serious misconduct” during the high-profile investigation and prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann, including blatantly lying in court before the ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice, Lucy McCallum, in a pretrial hearing.
The report, which has still not been made public, is understood to have found that ACT police did have enough evidence to charge Bruce Lehrmann, although it also found Shane Drumgold failed in his duties and acted in a way that was “grossly unethical”.
Originally, it was Shane Drumgold who made bold allegations about the about the ACT police force’s handling of the Bruce Lehrmann vs Brittany Higgins sexual assault investigation and prosecution.
As a result of the seriousness of those allegations, along with the controversy surrounding various aspects of the case, and its high profile nature, the ACT Government took the unusual decision at the start of this year to establish a board of inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann to “ensure that the territory’s framework for progressing criminal investigations and prosecutions is robust, fair and respects the rights of those involved”.
What happens next?
The board of inquiry has also reportedly made findings with regard to the way the case was handled by the ACT police, and it will have made recommendations which the ACT government will now consider, which is important for the overall integrity and impartiality of the legal system.
The ACT government will make further ‘official’ statements about the findings of the inquiry in the coming days, well ahead of its original planned response. Shane Drumgold will finish his role as chief prosecutor with the ACT DPP at the end of August and in the meantime a replacement for the role will be announced.
Will Drumgold be allowed to continue practising as a lawyer?
Given the findings made against him, it is expected that Mr Drumgold’s conduct will be referred to the Law Society of the ACT who will ultimately make a determination as to whether he engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct or the more serious offence of professional misconduct.
If such a finding is made, the regulator will then determine whether he will face consequences which can include suspension from practising and even being struck off the roll of legal practitioners, which would mean he cannot continue practising law.
Other cases still before the courts
In the meantime, various cases resulting from the original allegations of sexual assault made by Brittany Higgins against Bruce Lehrmann are still playout out in the courts, with Mr Lehrmann has launched defamation proceedings against journalist Lisa Wilkinson and Network 10.
Bruce Lehrmann has also lodged a formal complaint against the ACT’s top prosecutor, Shane Drumgold with the ACT Bar Association, claiming the Director of Public Prosecutions was “driven by malice” in charging him over the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins at Parliament House.
The complaint was made in December after the Lehrmann trial was aborted because of juror misconduct and the DPP subsequently dropped charges against Mr Lehrmann.
Mr Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence and there have been no findings against him.
In recent days it has also been confirmed that former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has launched defamation proceedings against Brittany Higgins, seeking aggravated damages, an injunction preventing her from publishing defamatory material, and another injunction to stop her from breaching the settlement contract.
In early 2021, it was leaked to the media that Linda Reynolds called Brittany Higgins a “lying cow’ within the earshot of other staff members.
Ms Higgins commenced defamation proceedings against Ms Reynolds, and the case was settled out of court with Reynolds subsequently apologising to Brittany Higgins and agreeing to pay all legal costs and make a donation to a sexual assault charity.
Linda Reynolds is also suing Brittany Higgin’s partner David Sharaz for defamation.