The Sofronoff Inquiry heard claims there was hostility between the Director of Public Prosecutions and the AFP, but Acting DPP Anthony Williamson SC says this is a “misconception”.
“The relationship was never dysfunctional to begin with,” Mr Williamson told annual reports hearings on Wednesday (22 November).
“The relationship is an extremely strong one, an extremely professional one, and it has been the cause of some frustration to me that in the immediate wake of Mr Sofronoff’s inquiry, there was media reporting, which I would suggest was inaccurate, that would suggest that the relationship was dysfunctional and there was a significant amount of acrimony between my office and that of the police. That’s not the case at all,” he said.
The report handed down by inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff KC suggested that by the time the matters went to trial, then-DPP Shane Drumgold SC and the police investigators were “at polar ends of an antagonistic relationship”. Evidence given by a senior police officer suggested “the relationship between [her] officers and the DPP/ODPP had broken down”.
Mr Williamson said the inquiry identified and dealt with tensions and disagreements in one particular case, but this wasn’t the norm.
“It’s an extremely professional, productive relationship,” he said.
“Last year we prosecuted over 4700 matters … and we could not achieve those results without a strong relationship.”
Mr Williamson said there haven’t been any changes in how the relationship between the DPP and AFP is managed since the departure of Mr Drumgold, who formally resigned in the wake of the inquiry’s findings.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve initiated any wholesale changes. I have gone out of my way to make sure that the relationship remains strong and productive and the Chief Police Officer has certainly taken the same approach,” he said.
Similarly, Mr Williamson said he hadn’t noticed a change in the ACT’s criminal justice system since the inquiry’s findings were handed down.
“At a functional and operational level, day-to-day level, there’s been no discernible change,” he said.
“The ACT criminal justice system is going about its business as usual, as is my office as part of that broader system.”
Mr Williamson said that, as a result of the Sofronoff Inquiry, he has arranged and delivered a number of continuing professional development courses to prosecutors addressing some of the “issues that arose during the course of that inquiry”.
Mr Williamson was first appointed Acting DPP in May after Mr Drumgold announced he was taking temporary leave.
He told the hearing that he will likely remain in the role until early next year.
“My appointment goes until March … I understand from the Justice and Community Safety directorate that they are in the final stages of engaging a professional legal recruitment firm to assist them with that recruitment process to permanently appoint a director, and I understand they intend to put an ad out advertising that role in the very near future.”
Justice and Community Safety Committee chair Peter Cain noted this is a “very long time to have an acting position without an advertisement being issued”.
Mr Williamson said he wasn’t aware why there was a delay, but he understood there were “some issues in terms of the procurement for a professional legal recruitment firm to assist the directorate with that process”.
“I understand for very high-level legal positions, the director being one of the highest legal offices in the Territory, it’s not unusual.”