ACT top prosecutor Shane Drumgold hits back against inquiry after resignationAugust 6, 2023
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ACT top prosecutor Shane Drumgold has accused the head of the inquiry into the Bruce Lehrmann rape case of denying him procedural fairness, and has disputed many of the probe’s findings after resigning from his high-profile role last week.
In a written statement on Sunday, Drumgold denied acting dishonestly or underhandedly after inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff, KC, found he had lied to the Supreme Court in the lead-up to the trial, and said the inquiry had missed the opportunity to focus on systemic issues in the justice system instead of focusing largely on him.
ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold has resigned.Credit: Rhett Wyman
“Although I accept my conduct was less than perfect, my decisions were all made in good faith, under intense and sometimes crippling pressure, conducted within increasingly unmanageable workloads,” Drumgold said.
“The pre-emptive release of the report to the media has denied me procedural fairness. It has deprived the ACT Government of the opportunity of considering my conduct objectively.”
Sofronoff’s findings were published by The Australian on Thursday. An ACT government spokesperson rebuked Sofronoff, saying he had told the government he had given embargoed copies of the report to some journalists ahead of him providing it to the territory last Monday.
Sofronoff found Drumgold, a senior counsel who has been the territory’s director of public prosecutions for nearly five years, had lied to the Supreme Court in the lead-up to the trial and improperly questioned former Coalition minister Linda Reynolds on the stand, among other findings.
Drumgold said: “Having now read the report, I dispute many of its adverse findings about me. While I acknowledge I made mistakes, I strongly dispute that I engaged in deliberate or underhanded conduct in the trial or that I was dishonest.”
The territory’s attorney-general, Shane Rattenbury, said in a statement on Sunday that he had spoken with Drumgold on Thursday. The government has been forced to expedite the release of the report to this week following the leak, after it had originally planned to table it in parliament at the end of the month.
“Mr Drumgold and I agreed that his position as director of public prosecutions was no longer tenable,” Rattenbury said. “I can confirm that on Friday, Mr Drumgold sent a letter advising me that he would be vacating his position as ACT director of public prosecutions.”
Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former colleague Brittany Higgins in the Parliament House office of their then boss, Reynolds, after a night out drinking with friends in March 2019.
The trial was aborted in October due to juror misconduct, and Drumgold ruled out the prospect of a retrial in December due to concerns over Higgins’ mental health.
Bruce Lehrmann, who has maintained his innocence, plans to sue the ACT over its handling of his prosecution.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
Lehrmann maintains his innocence, and now plans to sue the ACT government over its handling of his prosecution.
The inquiry was launched by the ACT government last year to examine the conduct of authorities in the trial after a public fallout between Drumgold and police. It was triggered by Drumgold’s November 2022 letter to ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan, in which he complained of police pressure against the case.
“In my mind, the handling of the case was reflective of the chronic problem in Australia with the way our legal institutions deal with allegations of sexual violence,” he said in his statement, citing statistics about lack of trust sexual violence survivors have in the justice system, and the low rate of charging in the ACT.
He said the inquiry “could have delivered a seminal moment in time, one to potentially rival the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Assault,” and could have asked questions about how complainants’ private information could be weaponised by the media.
The report also makes findings against Drumgold’s conduct over his viewing of Higgins’ counselling notes, which he went to lengths to ensure no one else saw, as well as public comments made in support of her when he discontinued proceedings last year.
Drumgold also shocked the inquiry when he raised suspicions of federal political interference in the trial. He walked it back a day later, qualifying that he no longer held such suspicions, and conceding he should have made that clear the day before. It was among a number of concessions he made about his behaviour.
Drumgold said the findings relating to his trial decisions were difficult to reconcile with those decisions made in the context of a “robust adversarial process, with a strong and experienced defence team and an eminently qualified judge who presided over the trial”.
“My career has been driven by a fire burning within, lit by an early life spent surrounded by the pain of chronic inter-generational social injustice. This fire has fuelled a life that took me from a disadvantaged Housing Commission estate to an esteemed leadership role within the legal profession,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I find the fire has been extinguished, and try as I might, I cannot reignite it.“
Drumgold said that while he disputed the report’s findings, he accepted that its premature release meant the courts and the public couldn’t have faith in the discharge of his functions.
“Accordingly, I have decided to retire from my role, effective 1 September 2023. I hope everyone involved in this matter finds peace – and I wish you all well,” he said.
Lehrmann said in a statement Drumgold’s resignation “shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone” and added that his response was unacceptable, “insufficient and not worth the paper it is written on”.
Lehrmann’s defence barrister Steve Whybrow said Drumgold’s statement seemed to confirm what was “blindly apparent” to the defence during the trial, “that he saw himself as a social justice crusader than an independent minister for justice.”
“This apparent ‘end justifies means’ explanation for his conduct is frankly alarming coming from a DPP,” he said.
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