The Board of Inquiry into how the ACT’s criminal justice arms acted during the case against Bruce Lehrmann has been delayed. It was due to commence today (1 May).
The Terms of Reference have also been expanded at the request of the Board’s Chair, Walter Sofronoff KC.
A statement explained Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury agreed to amend the wording relating to the ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shane Drumgold SC to “clarify that the Board is inquiring into the Director of Public Prosecutions’ conduct in the preparation of the proceedings for the hearings and his conduct of the proceedings”.
The original wording stated Mr Sofronoff would consider “whether the Director of Public Prosecutions failed to act in accordance with his duties or acted in breach of his duties in making his decisions to commence, to continue and to discontinue criminal proceedings against Mr Lehrmann”.
This has now been separated into three separate arms of inquiry to investigate whether Mr Drumgold failed to act in accordance with his duties or acted in breach of his duties in:
- “making his decisions to commence, to continue and to discontinue criminal proceedings against Mr Lehrmann”
- “his conduct of the preparation of the proceedings for hearings”, and
- “his conduct of the proceedings”.
Mr Drumgold’s conduct during the trial has come under fire by Mr Lehrmann, who made allegations of professional misconduct against the DPP to the ACT Bar Association.
This included accusations Mr Drumgold cared “more about his image” than running a “fair and proper” criminal trial.
The Board of Inquiry’s start date has been pushed back by a week to 8 May, which the Board’s executive director said was “due to the volume of documents received”.
The due date of the inquiry’s report has also been revised from 30 June to 31 July in light of the mountains of evidence and the delayed start.
Previous preliminary hearings have indicated there was at least 100 GB of video recordings from the AFP, while the DPP’s office has submitted more than 100,000 documents as well.
Counsel assisting Erin Longbottom KC said the inquiry would also need to consider – among the police’s, DPP’s and Victims of Crime Commissioner’s conduct and motivations – the context of the trial during the Me Too movement, the circumstances around the leaked letter from the DPP to ACT Policing’s Chief Police Officer (which ultimately triggered the inquiry), and the definition of a victim in the context of the courtroom versus seeking victim support.
Once the inquiry’s report has been received, the ACT Government is required to respond to the Legislative Assembly. However, Cabinet will decide whether to release a full or interim response.
Mr Barr has indicated he expected to respond during the August sitting week, but this could now be pushed back to the September sitting period in light of the delay.
Bruce Lehrmann was accused of sexually assaulting Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in 2019, which resulted in a trial at the ACT Supreme Court towards the end of 2022.
This resulted in a mistrial, and the case was eventually dropped by the DPP.
No findings have been made against Mr Lehrmann, and he has maintained his innocence.
On Friday (28 April), Mr Lehrmann was granted permission by the Federal Court of Australia to proceed with his defamation suits against two media publications and select journalists over reporting in 2021.
He is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson in one proceeding, and News Life Media and journalist Samantha Maiden in another. The suits began earlier this year.
He lodged his suits outside the applicable one-year limitation period, but the court found it reasonable for him not to have commenced proceedings within the limitation period.
“Having reached the state of satisfaction it was not reasonable to commence defamation proceedings … the appropriate exercise of discretion is to extend the limitation period against all opponents up until the time proceedings were commenced,” Federal Court Justice Michael Lee said.
He has also filed a suit against the ABC over its airing of a National Press Club address by Ms Higgins about violence against women, which she gave alongside sexual assault survivor Grace Tame in February 2022.