News & Current Affairs Criminal Law

By Peter Woodhouse


Sofronoff report – 5 things to be done immediately

Despite the ACT Government’s best attempts, it is no great surprise that the the report of Walter Sofronoff KC, the end product of the Inquiry into the ACT Criminal Justice System, very quickly made its way into the public domain.  Surprisingly, it seems that it was the Inquiry itself who provided the report to select media outlets, under embargo.  Presumably the conditions of the embargo had been satisfied before those media outlets reported on the matter and quite possibly, those outlets were given the blessing to release the details of the report if the ACT Government tried to delay its release.

Late Thursday, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, back-flipped and announced the report would now be released “early next week”.  Shame on the Government for trying to delay the release of the report.  It was clear from the evidence of Mr Drumgold at the Inquiry and the brutal cross-examination that the findings in relation to his conduct were likely to be negative.  Surely the Government had thought ahead and had some sort of game plan in place.  Seemingly not.

Good on those journalists for publishing the details of the report expeditiously and good on the Inquiry staff member who bravely gave it to them.  It seems those people care more about restoring public faith in the ACT Criminal Justice system than our own Chief Minister and Attorney General do.

Now that the hairiest details of the Inquiry’s findings are in the public domain, it is time for the Government to show some real leadership and quickly announce a plan (at least a provisional one) for how they intend to repair the damage.

There are at least 5 things that must be done soon as possible, namely:

  1. Dismiss Mr Drumgold as ACT Director of Public Prosecutions and replace him with a wholly independent, external appointment, worthy of the position and responsibility that comes with it.
  2. Once a new DPP has been appointed, all staff who remain in that office must be re-educated to ensure that they properly understand their duty of disclosure and other responsibilities as prosecutors.
  3. A review of all current matters in which there have been complaints of unsatisfactory disclosure by defence representatives and ensure that DPP disclosure obligations are properly discharged.
  4. Review any previous matters prosecuted by the ACT DPP (not just those in which Mr Drumgold was involved) which resulted in conviction, in which there were complaints of unsatisfactory disclosure and, if it is found that material has not been disclosed, those convictions may need to be revisited.
  5. The findings of the Inquiry be referred to the appropriate body for further investigation and review of evidence to determine whether Mr Drumgold (or any other prosecutor) has committed a criminal offence and should be prosecuted.

I have been a criminal defence lawyer, practicing predominantly in the ACT for the entirety of Mr Drumgold’s tenure as Director of Public Prosecutions.  It is clear to me that the fundamental misunderstanding of a prosecutor’s disclosure obligations go well beyond the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann.  Relieving Mr Drumgold of his position is a necessity, but if the failings of the office as a whole are not addressed satisfactorily, history will be repeated.  If someone is to be prosecuted for a serious criminal offence, even Mr Drumgold, it is not too much to ask that it be done with fairness and with the proper discharge of a prosecutor’s duty.