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Corruption call: ACT watchdog may examine Qld judge’s handling of Lehrmann case

The ACT Integrity Commission is assessing whether to investigate corruption allegations against Walter Sofronoff over his conduct in an inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann.

Apr 05, 2024, updated Apr 05, 2024
Walter Sofronoff arrives to speak to media during a press conference in Brisbane, Tuesday, December 13, 2022. (AAP Image/Jono Searle) NO ARCHIVING

Walter Sofronoff arrives to speak to media during a press conference in Brisbane, Tuesday, December 13, 2022. (AAP Image/Jono Searle) NO ARCHIVING

The territory’s integrity commission released a statement on Friday confirming it had received allegations of misconduct brought against the former Queensland judge.

The allegations relate to his dealings with journalists during the course of the Board of Inquiry held in 2023, and his decision to release the final report to media before it was given to the ACT’s chief minister.

The ACT’s former top prosecutor Shane Drumgold launched legal action in 2023 to invalidate the adverse findings made against him by Mr Sofronoff, who was the chair of the inquiry, arguing his communications with The Australian’s columnist Janet Albrechtsen had “infected” him with bias.

In response to the damning findings made against him by Mr Sofronoff, Mr Drumgold at the time said he wasn’t in a position to respond as he had not seen the report.

Justice Stephen Kaye found Mr Sofronoff’s behaviour “gave rise to a reasonable intention of bias”.

The ex-director of public prosecutions said he was “delighted” with the court’s ruling and looked forward to moving on with his life.

Mr Sofronoff’s communication with journalists, which emerged during Mr Drumgold’s legal challenge, also forms part of the corruption allegations.

Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams KC said he made his decision to confirm the commission received the allegations based on the “extraordinary and ongoing public discourse” about the conduct of the Board of Inquiry and the judgment made in Mr Drumgold’s challenge.

“I have determined that it is in the public interest to disclose that the commission is assessing whether the issues call for investigation,” he said.

“I see no reputational damage arising from making this announcement, noting that it involves no adverse findings of any kind.”The commission usually doesn’t confirm or deny the referral or investigation of corruption allegations unless there are exceptional circumstances.

“Here, the issues are especially important, their subject matter has already been widely publicised and the need for the integrity commission to assess and, if necessary, investigate them is apparent,” the commission’s statement reads.

“The recent litigation has now concluded. It is accordingly appropriate for this announcement to be made.”

Mr Lehrmann was accused of raping Brittany Higgins, a fellow political staffer, inside Parliament House in March 2019.

He denies the allegation.

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

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