Friday, April 19, 2024

ACT Govt appoints retired judge to Lehrmann trial inquiry

The ACT Government has appointed Walter Sofronoff KC as Chair of the Board of Inquiry into the conduct of criminal justice agencies involved in the trial R V Lehrmann.

According to the terms of reference, released today, the inquiry will investigate whether there was any wrongdoing by police or prosecutors involved in the case.

It will be able to investigate any potential political interference in the case, the Government has confirmed.

“The allegations and complaints made against our criminal justice agencies are serious. Mr Sofronoff is a highly regarded legal expert with experience leading sensitive inquiries throughout his career,” said Chief Minister, Andrew Barr.

“He was also Queensland’s Solicitor-General for almost 10 years. I am confident that Mr Sofronoff will deliver a thorough and respectful independent inquiry.”

Mr Lehrmann was accused of raping his then colleague, Brittany Higgins, at Parliament House in 2019. He has maintained his innocence throughout the subsequent police and court proceedings.

His trial was aborted due to juror misconduct, before a scheduled retrial was then abandoned at the end of last year.

The Terms of Reference for the Board of Inquiry include:

  • whether any police officers, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Victims of Crime Commissioner failed to act in accordance with their duties or acted in breach of their duties in their conduct during the investigation of the case;
  • the circumstances around, and decisions which led to the public release of the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions’ letter to the Chief Police Officer of ACT Policing; and
  • any matter reasonably incidental to any of the above matters.

Throughout the inquiry, the Board can hold public or private hearings, subpoena documents and witnesses and issue search warrants. The Board of Inquiry will report to the Chief Minister by 30 June 2023.

“The Board of Inquiry was established to ensure the Territory’s framework for progressing criminal investigations and prosecutions is robust, fair and respects the rights of those involved,” Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said.

“It is important to remember that this will not be a retrial of the case, it will focus on whether the criminal justice officials involved performed their duties with appropriate rigour, impartiality, and independence.”

The Terms of Reference are available on the ACT Government’s Justice website.

If you or someone you know needs support, visit: https://www.communityservices.act.gov.au/sexual-assault-prevention-and-response/support-services-available-in-the-act

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