The ACT Government is launching an inquiry that will investigate the conduct of the prosecution, the defence and police involved in the botched case of Bruce Lermann, accused of raping Brittany Higgins inside Parliament, after the trial was aborted and the case dropped.
The inquiry is announced in the wake of ongoing and profound, multi-layered criticism of the entire matter from several quarters and many commentators.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr and ACT Police Minister Shane Rattenbury said in a joint statement announcing the inquiry: “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.”
The high profile case ran for three and a half weeks before it was aborted on October 26 after a juror was discovered to have brought outside evidence into the jury room.
Higgins alleged Lehrmann raped her on the couch in the office of then cabinet minister Linda Reynolds after a night out drinking on March 23 in 2019. Mr Lehrmann has strenuously denied the allegations and the charges have been withdrawn.
The board of inquiry will examine the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions and ACT Policing regarding the prospect of charges being laid, the decision to proceed to trial and the decision not to proceed to a retrial.
The probe will also look at aspects of the conduct of the police investigation and the DPP, whether support given to Higgins aligned with the relevant statutory framework and the legal framework in the ACT for addressing juror misconduct.
The inquiry will hold hearings in public and have the powers to issue search warrants and compel documents.
Rattenbury said the inquiry would not revisit the Lehrmann trial or any of the evidence in the case and instead would look at the conduct of the agencies involved.
“It is expected that the inquiry will have regard to investigations which other bodies may be conducting regarding these matters,” he said.
In a further story today, The Australian reported: “Bruce Lehrmann has personally written to the ACT Bar Association with a letter of complaint outlining several elements of serious misconduct he alleges against ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC, The Australian understands.“A source close to Mr Lehrmann told The Australian that he would also welcome the opportunity to assist the newly-announced board of inquiry into the case in giving evidence at a public hearing into the actions and behaviour of the DPP as well as the conduct of the AFP during his interactions with them.
“Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow SC, said: “We welcome an inquiry and hope the terms of reference will extend to an examination of all aspects of this matter, including decisions not to prosecute various individuals and the efforts taken by the DPP to ensure a fair trial.”
“The Australian understands Mr Lehrmann’s defence team is keen for the inquiry to examine whether pressure was applied not to prosecute Ms Higgins for contempt over remarks she made outside the court, following the collapse of the case due to juror misconduct.
“Ms Wilkinson’s speech referenced Brittany Higgins despite being warned by prosecutors that publicity about the former political staffer’s allegations of rape could lead to the trial being delayed.“ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum postponed the trial by several months as a result, “regrettably and with gritted teeth,” in order to ensure a fair trial.“Notwithstanding that clear and appropriate warning, upon receiving the award Ms Wilkinson gave a speech in which she openly referred to and praised the complainant in the present trial,” McCallum said.”