Bruce Lehrmann has revealed he is preparing to lodge a multimillion-dollar claim for compensation against the ACT Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).
As the inquiry into his prosecution and the trial by Walter Sofronoff KC was handed to the ACT government, the former Liberal staffer who has always maintained his innocence has revealed he is briefing lawyers on a new legal fight.
“I will be guided by the report and call for its release as a matter of urgency,’’ Mr Lehrmann told The Australian newspaper.
“If it finds the director acted with malice or against his duties as DPP and as an officer of the court, I will be considering a multimillion claim for damages and compensation from the ODPP and the ACT government.”
Brittany Higgins, who alleged Mr Lehrmann raped her in a ministerial office, secured compensation believed to be worth more than $2m from the Commonwealth last year after arguing the Morrison Government mistreated her during her employment.
The former Liberal staffer Mr Lehrmann, who is now suing the ABC and Channel 10 for defamation, called for the report to be released immediately in the wake of revelations that ACT Government may suppress the findings while it mulls the future of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shane Drumgold.
On the weekend, Mr Lehrmann complained on Instagram about the plan to delay the release of Mr Sofronoff’s report.
“Absolute disgrace! I remember someone saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant … The Drumgold protection racket continues. The chief minister should hang his head in shame,’’ he said.
In the lead up to the inquiry, Ms Higgins welcomed the inquiry suggesting that “sunlight was the best disinfectant”.
No challenge to DPP’s’ indictment
During the ACT board of inquiry, chairman Walter Sofronoff reminded lawyers present he was not holding an inquiry into Bruce Lehrmann’s guilt or innocence.
“I’m not interested in how the trial should have concluded. I am not interested in whether Mr Lehrmann is guilty or not guilty. I’m not interested in Miss Higgins.
“However, I have to deal with the question of whether the charge should have been brought.
“Can I ask if anybody is going to be submitting at the end that I should conclude that Mr Drumgold ought not to have submitted an indictment?,’’ Mr Sofronoff asked during a hearing in May.
No barristers present said they did plan to suggest that Mr Drumgold should not have presented an indictment.
“Nobody has suggested the contrary. And I don’t read in the police evidence that any witness asserts to the contrary.”
The Sofronoff inquiry was established by the ACT Government in the wake of the abandoned prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann. A single charge of sexual assault was dropped by the DPP late last year.
‘Bizarre’ police approach
The Director of Public Prosecutions’ barrister Walter Tedeschi SC told the inquiry it was reasonable for the police to charge and the DPP to prosecute.
“It was a case that was overwhelmingly in need of charging,’’ Mr Tedeschi told the inquiry.
In making these arguments, he was not making any reflection of the guilt or innocence of the man accused, who maintains his innocence.
Rather, Mr Tedeschi was arguing that the police response was in fact emblematic of a deeper problem in the Australian Federal Police at the time.
Mr Tedeschi said it was only because of the publicity that the DPP reviewed the case and expressed the view that there were grounds to charge.
In fact, it was Mr Tedeschi’s submission to the inquiry that this was “to highlight to you, Chairman, how bizarre the police approach was.
“And that this was a classic example of it,’’ he said.
“Had it not been for all the publicity, had it not been that the alleged offence occurred in Parliament House, this matter would have been dealt with like the other – I think it’s 250-something matters that had been, in effect, just ignored by the police.
Police confusion over charge test
One of the lead police officers who investigated Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation admitted during the inquiry that she did not understand the legal test required to charge a suspect until she heard the evidence at an inquiry.
Senior Constable Emma Frizzell, who works in the Australian Federal Police sexual assault and child abuse team (SACAT), told the inquiry that she had believed the legal test to charge a suspect was having a reasonable belief the evidence supported the prospects of a conviction.
However, she told the inquiry she now understood she was wrong.
“I would concede that I don’t have it right. What I’ve written in my statement is not right,” Sen Cont Frizzell told the inquiry.
Asked if there was still confusion among police about what the legal test to charge a suspect is, Sen Const. Frizzel said: “Yes I would say that there is.”
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold and his junior counsel Skye Jerome have both provided statements to the inquiry that the police were confused about the test to charge.
Police have also suggested they had concerns over whether there was enough evidence to charge Bruce Lehrmann with the alleged rape.
Ultimately, Supt Scott Moller did charge Mr Lehrmann after receiving advice on the legal test from the DPP.
“You held a view that the evidence was insufficient to substantiate a charge prior to briefing the Director of Public Prosecutions?’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Joshua Jones asked.
“Yes, that’s right,’’ Detective Supt Scott Moller replied.
Jeremy Hanson, acting leader of the Canberra Liberals, has called on Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury to release the inquiry into the Higgins/Lehrmann trial without redactions.
“This has been one of the most important inquiries in the history of the ACT. It goes right to the core of our justice system,” said Mr Hanson.
“The public rightly expect this inquiry to be conducted without prejudice and released without interference.
“In fact, it is the only way to restore faith in the system.”