News & Current Affairs

By Peter Woodhouse


The interview with Lawyer X

As the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants in Victoria continues, Lawyer X – Nicola Gobbo, took to the airways in a secretive interview on ABC’s 7:30 on Tuesday night.

If you watched the interview and accepted what Ms Gobbo had to say at face value, you might feel sorry for her for just a minute.  Applying a deeper analysis however, a lot of what she had to say simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Ms Gobbo portrays herself as a poor dupe who got played by the police.  That simply cannot be right.  Ms Gobbo was known as a pretty good lawyer, who came from a prominent Victorian legal family and is clearly very bright.  She had a following as the ‘go-to Counsel’ for a number of serious criminal clients.

In the interview, Ms Gobbo was quick to brush aside her sexual relationships with several police officers, whilst working as a barrister for many high-profile criminal clients.  I cannot see how anybody in her position could not understand the obvious compromise of her duty to her clients in that situation.  It is hard to accept that those relationships played no role in the sharing of confidential information.

What Ms Gobbo told the interviewer of her understanding of the privilege that exists between clients and their lawyers and its limitations is farcical and smacked of an ex post facto attempt to justify her actions.  She clearly feels she was in the right to break the sacred legal bond of client legal privilege.

When asked whether she felt guilty about what she had done to her clients she replied: “I don’t know that guilt is the right word”.  She defended her position in saying she had no control of what people said in front of her and ethically she had an obligation to disclose the information.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a trusted confident of her clients, Ms Gobbo had an ethical obligation to keep the information she obtained from her clients confidential.  Nothing said by Ms Gobbo comes close to the very limited circumstances in which the breach of client legal privilege relationship is justified.

One thing that came across in the interview about Ms Gobbo is that she is very good at playing the victim and seemingly reluctant to take responsibility for her role in this mess.

Ms Gobbo maintained the exposure of her role as a police informer had “totally unexpected consequences” for her.  What did she think would happen?  The likely fallout has to have been obvious.  How refreshing would it have been if she stuck her hand up and said: ‘I know I did the wrong thing, I’m sorry and I want to make it right’.  Too much to expect, it seems.

Despite maintaining she is too unwell, Ms Gobbo has been ordered to give evidence to the Royal Commission by telephone from 29 January 2020.  We wait with bated breath for what comes from that.

One thing is clear, Ms Gobbo’s conduct and the betrayal of her clients remains a stain on the legal profession, particularly for criminal lawyers, and the rest of us are left with the burden of making up for it by example.