Outgoing ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold
Shane Drumgold has commenced legal action against the inquiry into Bruce Lehrmann's prosecution. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Inquiry chair denies special treatment for journalist

Tess Ikonomou February 14, 2024

Lawyers for the chair of an inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann deny he gave a particular journalist special treatment throughout the probe, a court has been told.

Former ACT chief prosecutor Shane Drumgold has launched a legal challenge against an inquiry into the actions of police and prosecutors involved in the case, claiming it was biased and denied him natural justice. 

He is seeking a court declaration to invalidate a report.

Former Queensland judge and chair of the inquiry Walter Sofronoff, found Mr Drumgold engaged in malpractice and unethical conduct.

On the first day of the case, Mr Drumgold’s lawyers said Mr Sofronoff’s frequent communication with The Australian’s columnist Janet Albrechtsen had “infected” him with her bias against the former director of public prosecutions.

Walter Sofronoff
 The Board of Inquiry says Walter Sofronoff did not afford preferential treatment to a journalist. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS 

Brendan Lim, acting for the Board of Inquiry, told the ACT Supreme Court on Wednesday Mr Sofronoff did not give preferential treatment to Albrechtsen. 

He said Mr Sofronoff engaged with any journalist who approached him with legitimate requests for information.

Albrechtsen was the most persistent of the journalists and the contact between the pair did not reflect special treatment on his behalf, the court was told.

Lehrmann was accused of raping Brittany Higgins, a fellow political staffer, inside Parliament House.

He denies the allegation.

His trial was abandoned due to jury misconduct and a retrial was dismissed over concerns about Ms Higgins’ health.

Kate Eastman SC, representing the ACT government, said claims made by Mr Drumgold’s lawyers that Mr Sofronoff had been “infected” with bias and had been “poisoned” against the ex-DPP lacked evidence. 

She accepted Mr Drumgold was “very distressed” by Albrechtsen’s coverage and considered himself to be targeted by the journalist and her media outlet.

But Ms Eastman said there was no evidence that Mr Sofronoff had read the articles written by Albrechtsen, or had sought them out.

She said several of Albrechtsen’s articles were reports of other people’s views relating to Mr Drumgold.

Albrechtsen was put in touch with Mr Sofronoff in February last year through a colleague at The Australian, shortly after the inquiry was set up.

The two maintained frequent contact throughout the inquiry, with Albrechtsen given an advanced copy of the final report as well as notes.

Dan O’Gorman SC, representing Mr Drumgold, argued negative comments about his client’s conduct made by Mr Sofronoff in a text message to Albrechtsen just two days before the inquiry’s public hearings started, was evidence the chair’s mind was against him.

But Ms Eastman said Mr Drumgold had already participated in a private interview with the inquiry and had a number of opportunities to explain himself. 

She said Mr Drumgold was given notice of adverse findings to be made in the report in June, followed by a second notice a month later in July, which proposed four negative findings against him.

The final report into the handling of Lehrmann’s trial was first published by media outlets before it was released by the ACT government, after Mr Sofronoff gave it to select journalists.

The case continues on Thursday.