The head of the inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann has denied breaking the law after giving two journalists the report’s findings before the ACT government made it public.
Walter Sofronoff KC admitted to regularly briefing journalists during the course of inquiry and to handing his final report to two outlets weeks ahead of its formal release, after the details of his findings were aired in the media.
The ACT government has said it is seeking legal advice as to whether Mr Sofronoff breached the law, with the territory’s Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury airing his frustration over the matter during a radio interview on Wednesday.
Lawyers for Mr Sofronoff on Thursday released a letter on his behalf, arguing the law was not breached because the final report was not included in the definition of “documents” in the relevant section of the inquiries act.
“That would put an end to the matter as far as Mr Sofronoff is concerned,” the letter said.
The letter was sent to the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Mr Rattenbury two weeks ago, and included an invitation to Mr Barr to correct the record in a public statement.
But while he indicated the option of taking action against Mr Sofronoff over the leak remained on the table, Mr Rattenbury would not name a deadline for a decision to be made.
“The government feels that the board of inquiry act is very clear about the expectation that material not be shared,” he told ABC’s Radio National.
Mr Sofronoff headed the inquiry into the ACT’s prosecution of Bruce Lerhmann in 2021.
Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting his former colleague Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in 2019. His trial was aborted last October due to jury misconduct and a planned retrial was abandoned due to concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health.
The charge was dropped and there have been no findings made against Mr Lehrmann.
The Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, Shane Drumgold, has launched legal action in the form of a judicial review to quash the Sofronoff report’s adverse findings against him.
The Sofronoff report found Mr Drumgold “knowingly lied” to Supreme Court justice Lucy McCallum and made several damning findings about his conduct during the case.
In a statement after the report’s release, Mr Drumgold denied any wrongdoing and said the report’s early release had denied him procedural fairness.
“Although I accept my conduct was less than perfect, my decisions were all made in good faith, under intense and sometimes crippling pressure, conducted within increasingly unmanageable workloads,” he said.