What will Sofronoff KC say? Public hearings end in the Higgins/Lehrmann inquiry

Andrew L. Urban.

The last witness on Thursday, June 1, 2023, in the public hearings of the ACT Board of Inquiry chaired by former judge Walter Sofronoff KC was Heidi Yates, the Victims of Crime Commissioner, made famous and recognisable accompanying her ‘client’ Brittany Higgins daily at the now abandoned rape trial in 2022. And the name of that organisation may well be changed on the recommendation of Mr Sofronoff…just a guess. 

While pre-empting Mr Sofronoff’s report to the ACT Government due at the end of July would be impertinent and foolhardy, I am prepared to take a guess that one of his recommendations will be to change the name of the Victims of Crime Commission and hence the title of the Commissioner, Heidi Yates.

I base my guess on the remarks made by Mr Sofronoff during the hearing, when he raised the prospect of ‘Victims’ in the title being perhaps inappropriate. He suggested a more apt and legally secure title might be ‘Complainants of Crime Commission’ instead of ‘Victims’. Calling complainants victims gives at least the appearance of judgement before a trial and threatens the presumption of innocence.

If this were indeed to come about, the Inquiry will have made a significant contribution to the discussion about nomenclatures and the law, and even perhaps to the principle of ‘victim-centric’ policing. (‘Evidence-centric’ policing would better reflect the needs of the law.)

Heidi Yates, Victims of Crime Commissioner, ACT

It should be stressed, however, that witnesses who were questioned about the role Yates played as support person to Brittany Higgins were unanimous in their praise of her professionalism and cooperation in that capacity. She did admit, however, that in hindsight she may have made different decisions regarding her physical presence at Higgins’ side, when, for example, she stood beside the complainant outside court when the trial was aborted making a speech that seemed to breach the presumption of Lehrmann’s innocence.

Yates told the inquiry that it was Higgins’ choice to make her daily entrance in the glare of public attention through the main entrance to the court, not a more discreet & private option. During her evidence, Yates quoted the various regulations that guide the Commission and her functions (see clause f below).

The ACT Board of Inquiry into the Criminal Justice System was established by the ACT Government on 21 December 2022, by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, MLA and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, MLA, with the following Terms of Reference:

The board will inquire into

a. Whether any police officers failed to act in accordance with their duties or acted in breach of their duties:

ii. in their conduct of the investigation of the allegations of Ms. Brittany Higgins concerning Mr Bruce Lehrmann;

iii. in their dealings with the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to his duty to decide whether to commence, to continue and to discontinue criminal proceedings against Mr Lehrmann in relation to those allegations;

iv. in their dealings with the legal representatives for Mr Lehrmann before, during or after the trial in the matter of R v Lehrmann;

v. in their provision of information to any persons in relation to the matter of R v Lehrmann.

b. If any police officers so acted, their reasons and motives for their actions.

c. Whether the Director of Public Prosecutions failed to act in accordance with his duties or acted in breach of his duties in:

i. making his decisions to commence, to continue and to discontinue criminal proceedings against Mr Lehrmann; and

ii. his conduct of the preparation of the proceedings for hearings; and

iii. his conduct of the proceedings.

d. If the Director of Public Prosecutions so acted, his reasons and motives for his actions.

e. The circumstances around, and decisions which led to the public release of the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions’ letter to the Chief Police Officer of ACT Policing dated 1 November 2022.

f. Whether the Victims of Crime Commissioner acted in accordance with the relevant statutory framework in terms of support provided to the complainant in the matter of R v Lehrmann.

g. Any matter reasonably incidental to any of the above matters.



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12 Responses to What will Sofronoff KC say? Public hearings end in the Higgins/Lehrmann inquiry

  1. Father Ted Whalensky says:

    The sad reality is that the jury system needs a major overhaul – under no circumstance should the DPP have the Jury Foreman on his team – Queensland Style – Juries should not be removed from the courtroom while the judge and his mates discuss shody evidence – Insulting that a jury can’t hear evidence about blood not being in a boat – then the conclusion hidden from them – Tasmanian Style – A Judge should not be allowed to read the DPP Screenplay to the Jury as if its fact – Juries should be trained for a few days at least – with warnings about the typical Shenanigans of the court room – forensic skulduggery – trained lying Policeymens – defence lawyers who become obviously part of the prosecution team – guaranteeing future work from the injustices system .

  2. Don Wakeling says:

    Is it still a secret held from it’s citizens by their Government? That is : What sum did it pay to poor, sad, ravaged and pychologically damaged Britany ??

      • Don Wakeling says:

        Seems like we’re all being “wrongfully convicted” for the crime of just being citizens.

        • Father Ted Whalensky says:

          Under no circumstance should a “confession” allegedly made to Policeymens or effying cell mates ever be presented to a jury – no Judge at any level should have the word Justice included in their title – the delivery of Justice should be left to decent laymen – we can see- that which them judges obviously can not – that Derek Bromley was convicted on the presentation to a jury of dogs vomit – courtesy of the South Australian Justice Systems Forensic Fraudster – Any decent human can see the obvious innocents of SNF Sue – Appeals Court Judges Cannot – why ? Quite simple – they have a cog missing in their gear box – one sandwich short of a picnic- roo loose in the top paddock – too much loose living at the table of the greedy ?

    • Father Ted Whalensky says:

      Was Darryl Beamish harmed by being sentenced to death – largely on the false confessions presented to a jury by a lovely future Western Australian Policeymens Commissioner – What sum did the Illustrious AG award poor Darryl after 10 years in prison and a 50 year wait ? What remarks did the lovely Judge make about Poor Darryl as he delivered the Death JUSTICE – Sentenced Darryl to hang by the neck – his head might come off- If a hunk of dog poo sentenced me to death – I want a million a year and the Judges New Mercedes- Darryl Beamish got $450000 – and instructed to be thankful ! The Automatic- not Negotiatable Compensation for Wrongful Conviction should be set Australia Wide at $ 1 million per year – from the Justice System Budget – Did the Sentencing Judge appologise for the disgusting remarks he made about Poor Darryl – These remarks would more appropriately have been addressed to the Policeyman – who used the techniques taught at police school to get the forced FALSE confessions !

  3. Fiona Peate says:

    I hadn’t thought too much about the semantics re ‘victims’ etc, but your article highlights that the accused seems to be considered guilty by the use of the term ‘victim’ prior to the decision of guilt being determined.
    Of concern to me is the role police seem to have in any judicial process – making recommendations to the prosecutor whether to prosecute or not. Surely there needs to be separation of power, in that police should assemble ALL the evidence, provide it to the prosecutor, & then for prosecution to have some process of assessing what has been provided & then determining whether to proceed or not. Those processes need to be absolutely transparent. It’s the primary tenet of natural justice that anyone accused are provided with all information about what they are defending themselves against. That seems to be missing in legal processes currently. Instead there is a smoke & mirrors guessing game about just what the prosecution has got. Again all about winning the game rather than getting to the nub of the truth.

  4. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    What I found interesting Andrew was not only the “professionalism and cooperation” by Commissioner Heidi Yates but the demonstrated awareness of requesting previously signed statements to be made available when answering questions for Mr Sofronoff.
    This human rights lawyer was remarkable and provided great insight when in the witness box on how best not to drift from your original evidence. A very cool and learned human rights activist who just happened to be a support person for one yet also conscious of the other party’s rights in this bizarre inquiry about the justice and legislative framework involving political heavy hitters.
    The chair, Mr Sofronoff also provided for a breath of fresh air.
    Unlike you I would be unwilling to pre-empt any of his remarks in justifying what really may have happened here.

  5. Jelena Rosic says:

    If Andrew Urban’s hunch’ is correct and there is a change in name from the Victims of Crime Commission to the benign sounding Complainants of Crime Commission (ie a victim of crime is much more than a complainant’) the question that needs to be asked is ‘Is that the right call?’ Because the current nomenclature accurately reflects its purpose. Namely, to represent the interests of victims of crime – as Heidi Yates, the Victims of Crime Commissioner – did in supporting Brittany Higgins in front of a media throng post abortion of the criminal trial.

    • andrew says:

      If the Victims of Crime Commission provided support for victims of crime once they had been confirmed as victims by the legal process (i.e. guilty verdicts) the nomenclature would be accurate and the public would not mistake complainants for victims. I’m guessing Mr Sofronoff would make a better argument than I have, if indeed he addresses the issue in his report.

    • Don Wakeling says:

      The real, and very serious, problem here, Heidi, is the perception which the public involvement by a “Victim” Commissioner might ignite in the mind of a potential juror. The sad reality is that jurors are prone to be persuaded to reach prejudiced conclusions if they are presented with out-of-Court rehersed showcases. Ms Higgins clearly planned her jury-prejudicial display and the clearly pre-judgemental Commissioner knew the publicity plan. They both knew exactly what they were doing, namely, to publicly thumb their noses to fair trial process and the rule of law. The public presence of the Commissioner of “Victim” Compensation was deliberate and was used by Higgins.

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