3 August 2023

'Sack him immediately': Calls for DPP Shane Drumgold's termination following leaked Sofronoff Inquiry report

| Claire Fenwicke
Shane Drumgold before the Board of Inquiry

A leaked copy of the Board of Inquiry report appears to have made adverse findings against on-leave ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC. Photo: File.

Demands have begun for Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC to be removed from his position following the leaking of the Sofronoff Report from the Board of Inquiry.

The document appears to have been leaked to The Australian, which has outlined the damning findings against the ACT’s top prosecutor, stating he “did not act with fairness and detachment as was required by his role” when arguing the case to find Bruce Lehrmann guilty of the sexual assault of Brittany Higgins at Parliament House.

The ACT Supreme Court case ended in a mistrial with no findings against Mr Lehrmann, and he has continued to maintain his innocence.

The article stated the report found Mr Drumgold had knowingly lied to the Supreme Court, engaged in serious malpractice and unethical conduct, “preyed on a junior lawyer’s inexperience” and treated criminal litigation as “a poker game in which a prosecutor can hide the cards”.

“The result has been a public inquiry, which was not justified by any of his allegations, that has caused lasting pain to many people and which has demonstrated his allegations to be not just incorrect, but wholly false and without any rational basis,” The Australian stated Mr Sofronoff said.

“The cost of a six-month public inquiry – in time and money, in lost work, and personal and professional consequences – has been huge.”

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The leak comes just days after the ACT Government received the report.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr was asked on Tuesday (1 August) whether he was concerned anyone would leak sections of the report ahead of the government’s response, either in an attempt to control the narrative or otherwise.

“That’s a matter for those individuals, if there are any, and if they want to come forward,” he said at the time.

“But I don’t think they will.”

In light of the leak, an ACT Government spokesperson stood firm that the report would not be released until it had gone through the Cabinet process.

“The report and the ACT Government response will be released publicly once this process has been finalised and it will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly at the end of the month,” they stated.

“The leak did not originate from the ACT Cabinet.”

Region asked whether the Chief Minister had confidence in Mr Drumgold, but did not receive a response.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury was asked by Region whether he felt it would be appropriate for Mr Drumgold to stand aside, and what powers the government had if the report contained adverse findings against an individual.

Those questions were also unanswered.

Mr Drumgold has been on leave since partway through the Board of Inquiry hearings, with Anthony Williamson SC stepping into the role of Acting DPP.

At the moment Mr Drumgold is expected to return from leave at the end of August, however it is unclear if his leave will continue past this date.

An Office of the DPP spokesperson said it did not receive a copy of the report and had no further comment.

“The Acting Director has no knowledge as to the leak of the report,” they said.

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Calls for Mr Drumgold to be sacked have already begun, along with a renewed push for the report to be released immediately.

Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana said there was now no point in delaying its publication.

“We know that the number of people who received the report was minimal; not even ACT Policing had seen the report,” he said.

“There is no point in hiding or sugar-coating the information and recommendations. In some cases, it’s clear what needs to occur.”

He also called for Chief Justice McCallum to refer “a matter about professional conduct” to the AFP for a criminal investigation.

Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee said there was now “absolutely no justification” for Mr Barr to “hide” the report any longer.

“If he is truly committed to being as transparent as possible … then he must release the report, in full, immediately,” she said.

“[This is] to ensure there is no undue – unfounded or otherwise – aspersions on any parties that are involved.”

Ms Lee couldn’t say whether she had faith in the ACT’s criminal justice system, given some of the alleged findings against Mr Drumgold were “alarming”, and called on Mr Rattenbury to “take some leadership”.

“It is extraordinary that the Attorney-General himself has had nothing to say about this very, very important inquiry and the proceedings over the last 12 hours,” she said.

“These allegations against any lawyer would result in immediate termination of employment and, in fact, would result in them most absolutely likely being struck off the roll.

“If the findings of [Mr Drumgold’s] conduct are as accurate as is being reported … then absolutely the Attorney-General of the ACT should sack him immediately.”

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