22 May 2024

Attorney-General defends government decision to foot Directorate head's legal bill in case against Integrity Commissioner

| Claire Fenwicke
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Shane Rattenbury

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury addressed concerns the ACT Government was covering Katy Haire’s legal bill in her court battle against the Integrity Commissioner. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The ACT’s Attorney-General has revealed he knew about legal proceedings started by Education Directorate head Katy Haire against the Integrity Commissioner in September last year.

He addressed the issue as questions were asked about why the ACT Government is paying Ms Haire’s legal bills.

Mr Rattenbury confirmed the Supreme Court directed he be “invited to intervene” in the proceedings on behalf of the ACT Government as a “friend of the court”.

“I was served papers late on the 4th of September [2023]. I sought advice from the ACT Solicitor General, and on the basis of that advice, I decided on behalf of the ACT Government not to intervene on that matter,” he said.

Mr Rattenbury explained he concluded that there was no “particular role” for the ACT Government in the proceedings and informed the court about this on 7 September.

“The ACT Integrity Commission is quite capable of itself of running the [court] matter and making the points that needed to be made. There was no need for the ACT Government to add further information,” he said.

While Mr Rattenbury briefed the Chief Minister’s office about the situation, he did not tell Education Minister Yvette Berry’s office about the developments.

He said it was reasonable that Ms Berry didn’t know about the court proceedings until she saw reports from news outlets earlier this week.

“I did not communicate [my decision] to Minister Berry’s office given she was involved in the [Integrity Commission] matter … I felt it would not be appropriate to communicate that information to her,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“I imagine Ms Berry would not have been aware of the government’s involvement.”

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The Canberra Liberals have questioned why the ACT Government (and ultimately taxpayers) are paying Ms Haire’s legal costs.

A government spokesperson previously confirmed this was occurring under the Law Officers Legal Services Directions 2023. The directions allow public employees who are the subject of legal claims or inquiries “arising out of the course of the performance of their duties” to seek assistance for their legal representation.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the law stated this assistance was for defending proceedings arising out of action within the scope of their employment – not for commencing them.

“The Chief Minister, Attorney-General and the Education Minister need to front the public and explain why ACT taxpayers are paying the legal fees for a Supreme Court application to try to stop a serious corruption investigation,” she said.

“Who approved the payment of the legal fees for this Supreme Court application and what were the reasons?

“And having agreed to pay the legal fees, does the ACT Government support this Supreme Court application seeking to shut down the Integrity Commission investigation?”

The law also outlines that assistance is not provided if a public servant is “defending a professional or personal disciplinary investigation or action”.

The provision of legal assistance can be rejected or withdrawn if the government isn’t given notice of legal proceedings.

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Mr Rattenbury said it had been a “long-standing practice” for the government to assist with legal support for public officials and that it was right for Ms Haire to seek assistance in this case.

“The particular objection she was taking, based on the papers we received, was that the Integrity Commission had formed a view that she could not examine a particular witness, and so this goes to the conduct of that,” he said.

“It’s quite different, I think, to a member (for example) initiating a defamation case against somebody because of comments they made about them. This was very much within the conduct of the proceedings that were underway.”

Ms Haire’s case against the Integrity Commission – which has been conducting an investigation into decisions made around the Campbell Primary School modernisation project – will next be heard in the ACT Supreme Court on 25 November.

The Integrity Commission is next holding public hearings for its investigation on 8 July.

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So the Government sets up an Integrity body and when that body investigates a Gov Department the public servant running the Dpt goes to the Courts to stop the Investigation.
Sounds completely fair & reasonable to me.

Based on advice from the ACT’s Solicitor General the government has made the decision not to interfere in the proceedings and pay the Directorate head’s legal bills as is appropriate in the circumstances. Fair or unfair, the decision was based on proper legislative and legal principles which apply to all public servants and elected representatives.

I am sure you would be the first to complain franky22 if the government broke the law and made decisions contrary to its legislative responsibilities and against the advice of our most senior legal officer and chief solicitor!

The Canberra Liberals can always bring a bill into the Assembly for debate to change the laws if they are so concerned with this outcome!

You are hiding behind legal technicalities to excuse an embarrassing cover up because a bad result will look bad for the Government.
Public servants using courts to thwart anti corruption investigation is shameful and clearly against the public interest.

Where is the cover up and the legal technicalities I am hiding behind? Any employee including public servants have every right to seek recourse in the courts for perceived unfair treatment. The court will make the final decision.

The Solicitor General, in his role as the ACT’s chief legal officer has given advice to the Attorney-General that the Directorate head, as a public servant and a subject of the Integrity Commission proceedings, has every right to be reimbursed for her costs in pursing this matter through the courts.

Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee is using the media in a blatant and shameful attempt to undermine the advice given by the ACT solicitor general and the impartiality and integrity of the Integrity Commission and courts to deal with such matters. By doing this she is knowingly destroying reputations simply to weazel her way into government!

Jeremy Hanson’s little brush with the defamation laws is just the tip of the iceberg with what the Canberra Liberals have got away with at taxpayer’s expense over the years franky22!

The Attorney-General made a decision to fund the Directorate head’s legal bill based on our laws, precedent and advice from the ACT Solicitor General.

That is what I would expect and how our legal processes work!!

Classic Jack D. Manages to turn a story about the Government’s integrity into a whine about the Libs who have been in opposition for ever.

What hypocrites the Canberra Liberals are! It was only a few years ago that Jeremy Hanson MLA, whilst Liberal leader, slugged Canberra ratepayers close to $500,000 to defend himself in a court action for untrue and defamatory comments he made against a senior union official in a talkback radio interview. This taxpayer funding was approved by the then Labor Attorney-General.

Mr Hanson’s arrogance saw him double down on his comments after proceedings were commenced, refusing to settle or apologise to the union official because taxpayer’s were footing his legal bills. These proceedings dragged on for over two years with Mr Hanson receiving legal advice at the time of the failures of his case and court rulings that his arguments were “defective”.

What a goose Mr Hanson is! Unfortunately it was ACT taxpayers who paid!

And still paying exponentially more for Labor/Greens largesse

The sooner the ACT gets rid of you Rattenbury the better off we’ll all be.

Two separate employees of ACT Government fighting each other through the law courts, one of them the Integrity Commissioner.

The previous Director of Public Prosecutions continually stuffing up multiple court cases and misleading victims.

Just what is going on under the Attorney General’s watch? It’s been one thing after another for the ACT judicial system.

We love money wasting exercises.

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