A board of inquiry will look into the conduct of ACT police and the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shane Drumgold in the prosecution of former Liberal Party adviser Bruce Lehrmann, who was accused of raping his then colleague Brittany Higgins in 2019.
- A board of inquiry is the ACT equivalent of a royal commission
- It will examine the Director of Public Prosecutions’ claims, which were raised in a publicly released letter to police after the trial ended, but before the retrial of Mr Lehrmann was dropped
- The inquiry will also examine the ACT’s legal framework for addressing juror misconduct
The ACT government said the inquiry would assess the jurisdiction’s handling of criminal investigations to ensure prosecutions were “robust, fair” and respectful of those involved, after complaints and allegations were made in relation to the trial.
The government’s decision follows a claim from the ACT’s top prosecutor that police pressured him to abandon the case.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the allegations made about the trial were serious.
“An independent review of the roles played by the criminal justice agencies involved is the most appropriate response,” Mr Barr said.
A board of inquiry is the ACT equivalent of a royal commission.
Ms Higgins alleged Mr Lehrmann raped her in the office of then cabinet minister Linda Reynolds in Parliament House.
Mr Lehrmann has maintained his innocence and there have been no findings against him.
His initial trial ended in October after a juror engaged in misconduct, and the retrial was abandoned because of fears for Ms Higgins’s health.
Inquiry will not ‘revisit’ trial
The inquiry will begin in the new year and will examine the Director of Public Prosecutions’ claims, which were raised in a publicly released letter to police after the trial ended, but before the retrial was dropped.
The government said the inquiry would examine interactions and conduct between both the ACT DPP and ACT Policing.
It will also look at the “appropriateness of the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates aligning herself with the complainant”, according to a government statement.
Further, the inquiry will examine the ACT’s legal framework for addressing juror misconduct.
The government confirmed the inquiry will be able to hold public and private hearings, issue search warrants, compel the production of documents, and compel the attendance of witnesses and take their evidence on oath.
The government said that ACT Policing, the DPP and the Victims of Crime Commissioner had all indicated they would cooperate with the inquiry.
No-one has yet been chosen to conduct the inquiry but the government said an “eminent legal expert” would be appointed.
ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said he was “deeply concerned” about the allegations that had been made in recent weeks.
“As the first law officer of the ICT I am deeply concerned by the allegations that we have seen in recent weeks following the decision to discontinue the matter of the crown and limit. The ICT government is absolutely mindful of the need for public confidence,” he said.
He added that both Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins had been told of their plans to hold the inquiry ahead of today’s announcement.
He said the inquiry would not be about “revisiting” the trial.
“It is expected that the inquiry will have regard to investigations which other bodies may be conducting regarding these matters,” he said.
“I would ask everyone to respect the privacy of individuals who will be involved in this inquiry.
“While the inquiry will be focused on ACT criminal justice agencies and the justice system, the ACT government acknowledges it may be triggering for people with lived experience of sexual violence.
“There are a range of services available for people experiencing difficulties, and we encourage anyone who needs support to reach out to those organisations.”