17 December 2023

Shane Drumgold's Board of Inquiry fight: five police officers accuse ex-DPP of defamation

| Albert McKnight

Shane Drumgold SC arrives for the Lehrmann inquiry earlier this year. Photo: Albert McKnight.

During a mention of Shane Drumgold SC’s legal fight against the Board of Inquiry, a court heard five police officers have accused him of defamation.

The former ACT Director of Public Prosecutions wants either Walter Sofronoff KC’s report, which was released after the inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann, or the decisions it made in respect to him to be declared invalid or unlawful.

There will be an ACT Supreme Court hearing in February 2024, but legal arguments have been taking place in the meantime.

The BOI and the ACT Government are already defendants in the matter, but last month, six ACT Policing members asked to become another defendant, arguing that if what Mr Drumgold sought was granted then the officers could be liable for further inquiries.

The officers are Michael Chew, Scott Moller, Marcus Boorman, Robert Rose, Trent Madders and Emma Frizzell, who all provided written statements to the BOI’s investigation into the ACT’s criminal justice system following the termination of the case against Mr Lehrmann.

On Friday (15 December), Acting Justice Stephen Kaye said he would allow the officers to become defendants.

He said it seemed the six may be directly affected by any relief Mr Drumgold sought if he was successful and they ought to be granted the opportunity to address the issues.

Dan O’Gorman SC, who represents Mr Drumgold, then told the court that last week, five of these officers had alleged his client had defamed them in relation to some of the matters in the case.

He did not expand further or name the five officers and said he just wanted to bring it to the acting justice’s attention.

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Meanwhile, the ACT Chief of Police Neil Gaughan had also applied to intervene or become an amicus in the civil fight, which essentially means becoming an adviser in the case.

However, Acting Justice Kaye said it was not appropriate to allow this, as he was not persuaded that Mr Gaughan or the Australian Federal Police would be directly affected by any relief Mr Drumgold sought.

He said those who could be directly affected were the six officers mentioned above, whom he had already allowed to join.

Acting Justice Kaye adjourned for another directions hearing in January 2024, then extended the hearing of the matter, which will now run for three days from 13 February.

walter sofronoff

Walter Sofronoff KC was the chairperson for the Board of Inquiry into the Lehrmann prosecution. Photo: Screenshot.

Last month, Mr Drumgold asked for the BOI to disclose communications between it and journalists, particularly Janet Albrechtsen of The Australian and Elizabeth Byrne from the ABC, made during the inquiry.

He was also seeking documents on an address Mr Sofronoff was going to give to the Queensland Media Club in late August 2023, including why it was cancelled.

The BOI’s report was leaked to The Australian and ABC in early August, several days before it was formally released.

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Mr Drumgold has claimed the BOI failed to accord him “natural justice”, that some of the report’s findings were “legally unreasonable”, and that some fell outside the inquiry’s terms of reference.

He resigned as DPP after findings in the BOI report made his position untenable.

These findings included that he directed “a junior lawyer in his office to make a misleading affidavit”, “preyed on the junior lawyer’s inexperience”, “egregiously abused his authority and betrayed the trust of his young staff member”, “deliberately advanced a false claim of legal professional privilege” and “knowingly lied to the chief justice”.

Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty and no findings have been made against him.

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