He had pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent and has maintained there was no sexual contact between the pair. The charge was dropped when the retrial was abandoned.
The inquiry announced by Chief Minister Andrew Barr will look into whether the process went ahead with the “appropriate rigour, impartiality, and independence”.
That specifically includes aspects of the behaviour of ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and ACT Policing and their interactions “regarding the prospect of charges being laid, the decision to proceed to trial and the decision not to proceed to a retrial”.
It will also look into the support Higgins received from the victims of crime commissioner and the legal framework around juror misconduct.
“This was a high-profile trial. The allegations made in recent weeks are serious. An independent review of the roles played by the criminal justice agencies involved is the most appropriate response,” Barr said.
The government said the inquiry would be able to hold public and private hearings, issue search warrants, demand documents and compel witnesses to attend.
It said ACT Policing, the DPP and the victims of crime commissioner had all indicated they would cooperate.
The government wants to find someone appropriate to helm the inquiry and finalise timeframes and terms of reference with them next month, before a report to the chief minister in the first half of the year.
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said he was “deeply concerned” by the matters raised and described the allegation police had pressured the DPP not to prosecute as “very serious”.
“The Director of Public Prosecutions and ACT Policing work together literally every day of the year, they have a long and ongoing relationship,” he said.
“And clearly, these allegations are very concerning in terms of that relationship. I hope that this matter does not affect that broader relationship.
“But that is part of the reason we are establishing this inquiry is to ensure that we’re addressing those allegations and these fracture points have been aired, there is an independent forum to investigate them and draw conclusions that can lead to a better cooperation between the parties.”
He said it would be a matter for the inquiry to determine how the compulsory powers would apply to ACT Policing and said Higgins, Lehrmann and the federal government had all been advised before the announcement.
The terms of reference would be broad enough to address accusations of political interference that had been raised, he said.
Rattenbury stressed the inquiry was not about “revisiting” the trial, its evidence or outcome.
“It is expected that the Inquiry will have regard to investigations which other bodies may be conducting regarding these matters,” he said.
Shortly after those calls became public, Rattenbury confirmed they’d been referred to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
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