ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC had been expected to return to his position this week, but he has now requested to extend his temporary leave period until 30 August.
Mr Drumgold took temporary leave in May, shortly after giving evidence to the Board of Inquiry into the ACT criminal justice system’s handling of the Bruce Lehrmann case. He had been expected to return to the inquiry to conclude the cross-examination of his evidence, but it was announced on 31 May that he would not be asked to appear at further hearings.
He was initially due to return to work on 13 June, but he extended his leave until the end of last month. ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury confirmed today (5 July) that the Territory’s top prosecutor will now delay his return.
Anthony Williamson SC was appointed Acting Director of Public Prosecutions on 17 May and has continued in that role in Mr Drumgold’s absence.
“Yesterday, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, requested an extension of his leave from today, 5 July 2023, to Wednesday, 30 August 2023,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“Anthony Williamson SC will continue to act in the role during this time.
“The deputy director has been appointed and he’s a very experienced prosecutor. He’s well-known in the office. He’s got all the suitable qualifications to fill this role. It’s business as usual,” Mr Rattennbury said at the time of Mr Williamson’s appointment.
It is understood that Mr Drumgold has not stepped down from the role. Speaking to ABC Radio on 13 June, Mr Rattenbury said he did not feel it was appropriate to disclose the nature of Mr Drumgold’s leave and what it was specifically related to. Asked whether there was likely to be a “change at the top”, Mr Rattenbury said he had not had this conversation with the DPP and that it is for “[him] to consider” when he returns.
“I think it’s fair to let him take his period of leave at this point, and when he returns, we’ll contemplate those questions if they’re on the table at all at that time,” he said.
Mr Drumgold had been under intense scrutiny when he appeared in the witness box in the first module of the inquiry. He spoke of a “skills deficit” and a lack of objectivity among ACT Policing officers involved in the Lehrmann matter and potential “political interference” at play during the trial.
In later hearings, the DPP’s own objectivity was called into question, with Bruce Lehrmann’s defence counsel Steven Whybrow SC putting that it was Mr Drumgold who was “hostile” to the police. Detective Superintendent Scott Moller also told the inquiry that his dealings with the DPP left him “concerned for the independence and integrity of the investigation”.
The Board of Inquiry into the Territory’s criminal justice system and its handling of the trial was launched after a letter from Mr Drumgold to ACT Policing Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan was released under Freedom of Information legislation.
The inquiry is investigating how the ACT’s criminal justice arms acted during the trial of Bruce Lehrmann, who pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. He was accused of raping Brittany Higgins in Parliament House on 23 March 2019. No findings have been made against Mr Lehrmann and he has maintained his innocence.
Chair Walter Sofronoff KC is expected to deliver a report outlining the inquiry’s findings by 31 July. However, Mr Sofronoff said last month that he would aim to deliver the report “as soon as possible”.
The inquiry has heard from ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC, Mr Lehrmann’s defence counsel Mr Whybrow and his former barrister John Korn, several senior police officers involved in the matter, the solicitor for Network Ten, and Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates.
The evidence tendered to the inquiry explored the extent of the breakdown in the professional relationship between the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and ACT Policing officers involved in the Lehrmann case, touching on the broader context of handling sexual assault investigations in the ACT.
The inquiry heard multiple witnesses explain their interpretation of key events in the case, including the DPP’s attempt to prevent the disclosure of the ‘Moller Report’, a set of AFP documents that raised Detective Superintendent Scott Moller’s concerns about inconsistencies in Ms Higgins’ evidence. Witnesses have also spoken on the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information concerning Ms Higgins in the brief of evidence mistakenly served to Mr Korn, including her counselling notes and other unredacted details.
Witnesses were also asked about the relationship between Ms Higgins and the police and the involvement of Ms Yates as a liaison between the two parties.
Information about the inquiry, including tendered exhibits and recordings of the hearings, can be found on the Board of Inquiry website.