Ten recommendations from the Sofronoff Inquiry report have been supported by the ACT Government, following its sensational leak to select media outlets last week.
The government was forced to bring forward its response to the 839-page report following the leaks, which resulted in mounting pressure to sack ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shane Drumgold SC.
Mr Drumgold took that decision from the government and handed in his resignation on Friday (4 August), which was announced by the government on Sunday (6 August).
The government has agreed to eight of the report’s recommendations and agrees in principle to two, subject to further consultation with the Office of the DPP, ACT Policing, the Victims of Crime Commissioner and other legal stakeholders.
“The recommendations contained in the report offer a pathway forward for the ACT criminal justice system and will further strengthen community confidence in the institutions that support a fair and just system for Canberrans,” a government statement said.
“A key finding by the Board of Inquiry was that it was appropriate to prosecute this matter, on the information available to ACT Policing and the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
The government stated the Board of Inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff KC decided to give two media outlets embargoed access to the report without consultation, before Chief Minister Andrew Barr had even received it.
The government said this had interfered with the due process that should have been afforded to all involved parties.
“The Government is extremely disappointed that this occurred,” it stated.
“Nonetheless, the Government maintains confidence in the Report recommendations and our focus remains on implementation.”
The government has written to Mr Sofronoff asking for an explanation and has also sought further advice over whether this conduct has breached the Inquiries Act 1991.
While the government released the full report and its appendices, which contain proposed adverse comments against some individuals and their responses.
“Some of those named have requested the Chief Minister not release the Appendices,” it stated.
Mr Drumgold has refuted the findings against him, and the option for him to provide a full response to the government remains open.
A top lawyer has suggested the way the report’s findings unfolded was “unfair” to Mr Drumgold.
Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson SC, who formerly was the counsel assisting ICAC and Police Integrity Commission, told ABC radio this was because Mr Drumgold hadn’t been able to fully consider or respond to the findings.
“If this had been circulated in the customary fashion then Mr Drumgold could have gone to a court and prevented the report from being handed down at all, until he was afforded natural justice,” Mr Watson said.
Overall he felt it was “appalling” it had been leaked before every party had been offered the chance to fully consider the findings, and the resulting fallout meant a key aspect of the inquiry has been buried.
“What’s really been lost is the way in which we’re treating young women in our justice system,” Mr Watson said.
The government statement outlined it had conducted a preliminary review of the 18 criminal cases Mr Drumgold conducted or participated in since his appointment as DPP in 2019 as a result of the findings.
It stated on the material available, there was no need for a more detailed examination.
“Defendants in historic and current matters have the opportunity to raise any specific concerns through existing judicial processes,” the government said.
ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum also issued a message to all legal practitioners on Monday (7 August), apparently in the wake of Mr Drumgold’s resignation and the allegations against him.
She noted the “unprecedented attention” the justice system had received over the past year, which she stated was “welcome” but seemed to suggest it had gone too far.
“A point can be reached where the personal toll on the practitioners concerned becomes oppressive and unfair,” Chief Justice McCallum wrote.
“I urge all practitioners to show kindness and respect towards each other at this time and look forward to continuing to work with the local legal profession to build on the many strengths of this jurisdiction.”