Criminal Law News & Current Affairs

By Peter Woodhouse


Actions of Informer 3838: appalling

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days you would have heard about the scandal that has broken in Victoria concerning the criminal barrister who, it has been revealed, was working as a police informant over many years, often informing against her clients at the same time she was defending them.

The revelation came after the High Court revoked the granting of special leave to appeal for an appeal brought by the Victorian Police and the barrister, seeking to prevent the disclosure of what she had done to those clients effected by her informing.

In their judgement the full bench of the High Court was scathing of both the barrister and the Victorian Police:

Here the situation is very different, if not unique, and it is greatly to be hoped that it will never be repeated. [The Lawyers] actions in purporting to act as counsel for the Convicted Persons while covertly informing against them were fundamental and appalling breaches of [her] obligations as counsel to her clients and of [her] duties to the court. Likewise, Victoria Police were guilty of reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging [the Lawyer] to do as she did and were involved in sanctioning atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer to discharge all duties imposed on them … As a result, the prosecution of each Convicted Person was corrupted in a manner which debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system.

The barrister’s conduct is an embarrassment to the legal profession and significantly undermines public confidence in the legal system.

One of the effected client’s solicitors has called it “the most systematic abuse of the justice system in Australia’s history.” And he might just be right.

Fundamental to our system of law is a lawyer’s obligations to their client, including our duty to act in our clients’ best interests and to treat information given to us by our clients in strict confidence.

Apparently for her own safety, the barrister’s name remains suppressed and the High Court file is sealed until February 2019.  However, whilst she is being referred to publicly as Informer 3838, her identity is no secret amongst the legal community or presumably to her clients.

It is expected the clean-up of this mess will cost tens of millions of dollars.  The Victorian Premier has announced a Royal Commission to uncover the breadth of the effect of the barrister’s actions on several convictions for major offences.  The immeasurable costs is the impact it will have on the justice system, the degree of that fallout is still unknown.