The devastating report into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins raises a string of very serious questions. The inquiry findings obtained and published in depth by The Australian are, to say the least, awkward for the ACT government.
At the top of the list is how on earth the ACT's top prosecutor could have been so remiss as to behave in such a way that could have tilted a trial against an accused person.
This is a serious matter. Perverting the course of justice is a crime. If the ACT's Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC did that intentionally, the maximum penalty is seven years in prison.
The report by board of inquiry chairman Walter Sofronoff KC is littered with phrases like "improper obstruction", "no factual basis" and "quite apart from Mr Drumgold's misconduct in misleading the Supreme Court in a criminal case". The police may want to look into the matter further.
On top of that, there is a question over Mr Drumgold's more general judgement. How could it have been so impaired as to call for an inquiry which ended up surely ending his career and perhaps facing prosecution himself?
As Mr Sofronoff reportedly concluded: "The result has been a public inquiry, which was not justified by any of his allegations, that has caused lasting pain to many people and which has demonstrated his allegations to be not just incorrect, but wholly false and without any rational basis."
"The cost of a six-month public inquiry - in time and money, in lost work, and personal and professional consequences - has been huge."
This prompts a further set of questions:
- How much has the inquiry cost ACT taxpayers?
- Was that cost avoidable?
- Did anyone in the ACT government urge Mr Drumgold to back away from his pursuit of the police by way of the inquiry which has so spectacularly backfired on him?
And this prompts the questions of how long the ACT government can keep the report secret (if that's the right word, given that it has been so comprehensively leaked). And for how long can Mr Drumgold continue to be paid by the Canberra taxpayer?
There is, it seems to me, a wider context to this scandal (for scandal it is).
It remains clear that misogyny, sexism and violence against women are serious problems. On top of that, the justice system is tilted against victims because of the trauma of testifying and because trials often end up in a set of conflicting accounts, with no outside witnesses.
Too many people, it seems, threw scepticism and calmness out of the window. There was an atmosphere of hysteria. Mr Drumgold appears to have allowed himself to be caught up in that atmosphere.
The media also needs to look at itself. Too much of the reporting has been partisan. The "left-wing" media said one thing. The other lot said the opposite. Emphasis depended on the political stance of the media organisation and - importantly - their access to the key players on either side.
This whole affair has been shaped by people in government, the law and in the media who have been so ideologically captured as to lose sight of the basic principles of justice. This is something that should be studied and learned from for decades to come.
We shouldn't now have to wait for weeks to read the report. The ACT government should rethink its reluctance to tell the voters and taxpayers what they should not have learnt from a newspaper.
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