A probe into the conduct of police and prosecutors in the rape case against former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann may have the power to hold public hearings, with the territory government vowing transparency in its inquiry.
Retired judge Walter Sofronoff has been appointed by the ACT government to head the inquiry which will investigate whether the police, the Director of Public Prosecution or the Victims of Crime Commissioner breached their duties.
Mr Lehrmann faced trial last year but the case was aborted due to jury misconduct. The DPP later dropped the charges against him over concerns about the impact a second trial would have on Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Mr Lehrmann has vehemently denied the allegations and there have been no findings against him.
Confirming Mr Sofronoff’s appointment on Wednesday, ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury left the door open as to the possibility of public hearings should the commissioner see fit.
“In the preliminary conversations we’ve had with Mr Sofronoff, we’ve conveyed the government’s desire to bring some light to this matter, to be very transparent about it and have our underlined view that we answer the questions that have been posed,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“We have not sought to dictate to him how he conducts his inquiry. We have certainly indicated our expectations of you doing it in a way that does provide public confidence.”
The terms of reference for the inquiry, released on Wednesday morning, state the probe will also address how a letter from the DPP Shane Drumgold to ACT police chief Neil Gaughan was made public.
In the bombshell letter, Mr Drumgold alleged police had pressured him not to charge Mr Lehrmann over the allegations that he had sexually assaulted former colleague Brittany Higgins.
Mr Rattenbury first announced the board of inquiry – the ACT equivalent to a royal commission – in December, just days after the letter was made public under freedom of information laws.
Mr Sofronoff, a former head of Queensland’s court of appeal, will have until June 30 to hand his findings to Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
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