Editorial

Shane Drumgold’s application calls for the findings against him to be ruled invalid. He wants costs and an undertaking that the ACT attorney-general will not take “any action” against him.

A fair go for none

Shane Drumgold’s application calls for the findings against him to be ruled invalid. He wants costs and an undertaking that the ACT attorney-general will not take “any action” against him.

He says the board of inquiry set up to investigate the handling of the Bruce Lehrmann prosecution denied him natural justice. The findings it made were legally unreasonable and went beyond the terms of reference. He was denied a fair hearing.

Drumgold, who resigned last month as the ACT’s director of public prosecutions, says the inquiry was wrong to find he had misled the court or made false statements. It was wrong to find he had breached his duty as a prosecutor. It was wrong to find that the comments he made when discontinuing the case were improper.

At the same time, it emerged the Sofronoff inquiry incorrectly attributed material from a report in The Australian to a New South Wales Supreme Court judge. Walter Sofronoff’s findings were later leaked to the same newspaper, even before they were given to the chief minister.

Drumgold’s application for a judicial review sits alongside defamation proceedings brought by Lehrmann against media outlets that reported Brittany Higgins’s claim he raped her in the office of then minister Linda Reynolds. Higgins herself is being sued by Reynolds for defamation. Lehrmann denies the allegations against him.

Speaking this week, the ACT attorney-general, Shane Rattenbury, acknowledged “the view held by people in the community that the justice system often fails to meet survivors’ needs for healing and justice”.

He said: “Given the allegations made in the criminal trial that gave rise to the board of inquiry, I would like to acknowledge that there may be people listening today who have experienced sexual violence directly or be close to those who have. The impact of sexual violence can include long-lasting trauma and it can be triggering to hear statements like the ones being made in this place today … It is my heartfelt hope that people who have experienced crime are not dissuaded from seeking the assistance that is right for them because of this inquiry report.”

Rattenbury comes as close as anyone to understanding the damage this case has done. Higgins has been hounded by the media. Her private conversations and messages have been leaked. Her counselling notes were inappropriately shared with the defence. At every stage there have been failures.

For his part, Lehrmann says he has been “smeared and slammed”. He says he will likely never work again and intends to bring a multimillion-dollar compensation claim, although he has not said where such a claim would be brought.

It is hard to imagine how this case would not dissuade people from reporting allegations to police. The system has been shown to be crude and flawed, to operate on a mix of incompetence and clubbish indifference. Even the inquiry was mishandled and leaked. Not a single person, it seems, has been treated fairly.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 2, 2023 as "A fair go for none".

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