3 August 2023

Sofronoff Report contents make Drumgold's position untenable

| Ian Bushnell

ACT DPP Shane Drumgold’s call for an inquiry into the prosecution has resulted in career-ending findings. Photo: Albert McKnight.

It was always a case of wishful thinking for the Chief Minister to expect the Sofronoff Report not to be leaked while Cabinet considered its 600 pages for a month.

All through this sorry state of events, briefing and leaking have been rife.

But Andrew Barr would not have predicted that the head of the inquiry himself would release the government-commissioned report to select media off his own bat for reasons known only to himself.

It is just one more twist to a legal and political drama that shows no ending.

After the report’s damning contents was covered in excruciating detail, first by The Australian and then the ABC, Mr Barr says the government will now expedite its release early next week along with the government’s interim response to the recommendations.

READ ALSO ‘Sack him immediately’: Calls for DPP Shane Drumgold’s termination following leaked Sofronoff Inquiry report

ACT Director of Prosecutions Shane Drumgold, who is on leave, deserves procedural fairness, Mr Barr says.

Mr Drumgold’s own-goal call for an inquiry into the prosecution and ill-fated trial of Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House has spectacularly blown up in his face.

Even if the coverage of the report so far is cherry-picking, there are so many cherries that they cannot be ignored.

They paint a devastating and tragic portrait of an officer of the court who became so invested in the cause that he lost his way, and in doing so brought the administration of justice in the ACT into doubt.

Serious malpractice and unethical conduct, withholding evidence from the defence, lying to the Chief Justice – these are career-ending findings.

The question it raises is whether there are any other cases involving Mr Drumgold where the outcomes could be tainted.

The leaking of the report meant that the public knew more about it than the man who had the most to lose from it.

He was not even in a position to defend himself or find some saving grace from the report when its contents were published.

Mr Barr says the government is now in contact with Mr Drumgold about the findings.

It was understandable for the government to want to keep the report under wraps while it worked through it and maintain some control over something it had commissioned.

But it is too late. Mr Barr and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury may have wanted a studied examination of the report and sober response to its recommendations instead of a public lynching but this is now becoming a political crisis for the government, as well as a personal one for Mr Drumgold.

Any more delay, and the blowback will damage it as well.

Mr Drumgold’s position is simply untenable and the government needs to act quickly and decisively to restore faith in the justice system and heal the split between the DPP and police, whose actions the report found were proper.

The government should demand Mr Drumgold’s resignation and he should give it willingly to avoid being sacked.

Now copies of the report are circulating in the media, it should be released immediately so others can read it for themselves and form their own opinions. The government’s response can come later.

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One interesting aside is the support in the report for Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates, who took much flack for her visible role supporting Ms Higgins throughout the trial, particularly when she stood by her when it was aborted.

Mr Sofronoff defended her actions, saying the criticism stemmed from a lack of understanding of her role. Yet in such a high-profile and contentious case it may have still been unwise to be so visibly associated with Ms Higgins.

But it is beyond irony and Shakespearianly tragic that the man who wanted an inquiry has been singled out and will now have to face the consequences of his actions.

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