Walter Sofronoff to lead inquiry into handling of Bruce Lehrmann case
The respected former judge Walter Sofronoff KC will lead the inquiry into the handling of the Bruce Lehrmann case after explosive allegations of police misconduct.
The ACT attorney-general, Shane Rattenbury, is preparing to announce Sofronoff, an eminent jurist who recently led the inquiry into the Queensland forensics scandal, as the head of the inquiry on Wednesday morning.
Sofronoff’s appointment, first reported by News Corp and confirmed by the Guardian, will see him investigate the damning allegations made by the ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, about police’s handling of the investigation, trial and the then-looming retrial of Lehrmann.
The inquiry is also expected to have remit to examine the conduct of other parties, including the DPP and the ACT’s victims of crime commissioner, Heidi Yates.
Related: ACT close to naming head of Bruce Lehrmann trial inquiry and its scope
The trial against Lehrmann for the alleged rape of fellow political staffer Brittany Higgins collapsed last year, after the discovery of juror misconduct. A retrial was abandoned by the DPP due to expert evidence about the risk the proceedings posed to Higgins’ mental health.
That leaves Lehrmann, who vehemently denied the allegation, with the presumption of innocence.
The Guardian revealed in December that Drumgold had penned a damning letter to the chief police officer, Neil Gaughan, after the first trial collapsed, alleging police had engaged in “a very clear campaign to pressure” him not to prosecute.
Drumgold alleged he was subject to “inappropriate interference” and said police were “clearly aligned with the successful defence of this matter” during the trial.
ACT police have refused to comment on “any aspects surrounding this matter including commentary about the letter from the ACT DPP”. However, the police union called for Drumgold’s conduct to be investigated.
The chief minister, Andrew Barr, described the allegations as “serious” and said an independent review of the “roles played by the criminal justice agencies involved” was the most appropriate response.
Rattenbury described Drumgold’s allegations as “concerning” and said it was important the inquiry examine “fracture points” in the relationship between the DPP and ACT policing. The cooperation of the two agencies is crucial to the proper functioning of the territory’s criminal justice system.
Sofronoff’s inquiry will be granted considerable powers. It will be able to compel witnesses, subpoena evidence, and hold public and private hearings.
Sofronoff most recently oversaw the inquiry into forensic DNA testing in Queensland. That inquiry probed serious problems with the way Queensland police collected DNA evidence from rape victims.
He is also a former Queensland solicitor general, a past president of Queensland’s highest court, the court of appeal, and led the inquiry into the Grantham floods. He also conducted a review of Queensland’s parole system.
Sofronoff is expected to be formally announced on Wednesday morning.