13 May 2024

Integrity Commission launches investigation into conduct of Walter Sofronoff

| Ian Bushnell
walter sofronoff

Board of Inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff’s actions will continue to be under scrutiny. Photo: Screenshot.

The ACT Integrity Commission has decided to launch a full investigation into the head of the Board of Inquiry into the ACT Criminal Justice System, Walter Sofronoff, for possible corruption in giving his report to journalists before handing it to Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

An update on the Commission’s website said Commissioner Michael Adams, who had been assessing allegations made against Mr Sofronoff, had decided to press ahead with an investigation because he suspected, on reasonable grounds, that the former Queensland judge’s actions “may constitute corrupt conduct”.

The allegations centre on Mr Sofronoff giving his report to two journalists before it was made public by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, allegedly in breach of the requirements of the Inquiries Act 1991 and possibly constituting corrupt conduct under the Integrity Commission Act 2018.

The Board was established on 1 February 2023 in the wake of the trial of Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in March 2019.

The trial was abandoned after juror misconduct and then-DPP Shane Drumgold decided not to retry the matter due to the fragile state of Ms Higgins’ mental health.

READ ALSO As the investigation is ongoing, the Commission will not be making any further public comments at this time.

There has been no criminal finding against Mr Lehrmann.

But Mr Drumgold agitated for an inquiry into the conduct of the trial, only for Mr Sofronoff to deliver a damning finding against him that resulted in his position becoming untenable. Mr Drumgold subsequently resigned.

That report was handed to Mr Barr on 31 July 2023.

The corruption allegations were referred to the AIC in early April.

It said at the time that the allegations related to disclosures made by Mr Sofronoff to journalists during the inquiry, the release of his report to journalists before the Chief Minister released it, and communications with media that were disclosed in recent litigation in the Supreme Court of the ACT.

Following his resignation, Mr Drumgold launched legal action claiming Mr Sofronoff’s private communications with The Australian journalist Janet Albrechtsen gave rise to apprehended bias.

Mr Drumgold had asked for either Mr Sofronoff’s report, or the decisions it made in respect to him, be declared invalid or unlawful.

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Acting Justice Stephen Kaye supported several of those claims, although the judge rejected others.

Interpretations of Justice Kaye’s findings vary: Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury has reiterated that only some of the Sofronoff inquiry’s findings were invalidated by the finding of bias, while Mr Drumgold believes the findings as a whole were tainted and cannot stand.

In its update, the AIC said that as the investigation was ongoing, the Commission would not make any further public comments at this time.

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