Lawyer X prosecutions unlikely due to lack of power and resources, anti-corruption body says

Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog has expressed serious doubt about whether any criminal charges will flow from the Lawyer X scandal.

The royal commission into the scandal is considering whether individual police officers have committed criminal offences by using gangland barrister Nicola Gobbo against her own clients.

The Independent Broad Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) said it does not have the proper powers to go after police officers involved in the state’s biggest legal scandal.

It also said a critical lack of resources severely weakened its ability to investigate what has been described as a “mammoth, Janus-like task”.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, led by Chris Winneke QC, said the evidence suggested former chief commissioner Simon Overland, former Purana taskforce boss Jim O’Brien, senior detectives and Ms Gobbo’s handlers were all aware she was ratting on her clients.

They warned that the collusion had a “potentially catastrophic consequences for the criminal justice system” and has jeopardised 124 convictions.

Ms Gobbo represented a host of gangland identities including drug lord Tony Mokbel.

Commission lawyers said there had been significant and repeated departures from acceptable conduct when it came to the relationship between Ms Gobbo and Victoria Police.

Commissioner Margaret McMurdo said the decision to press charges rested with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and she will not be recommending any person face a criminal investigation.

At the heart of the problem is the need for investigation, independent from Victoria Police, to build a criminal case for the DPP.

Investigation would need a dedicated taskforce

A woman dressed in a black robe seated at a court bench.
Commissioner McMurdo said it was up to the DPP to decide about charges.(ABC News)

IBAC warned such an investigation would be “highly challenging [given the] … nature of the potential offences”.

“A large part of the evidence gathered by the royal commission would not be admissible in any criminal prosecution,” IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich QC said in a submission to the public inquiry.

The watchdog’s role would be to gather evidence that could be used against officers in court, and would require going through the large body of evidence garnered by the public inquiry over the course of the 20-month inquiry.

“IBAC lacks some of the necessary powers it should have to properly investigate complaints received against police officers, some of which affect its ability to gather admissible evidence,” Mr Redlich said.

Mr Redlich said even its ability to hold coercive examinations would not help, as any evidence gained could not be used in criminal proceedings.

He said IBAC was cash-strapped and would need a sufficient funding boost to enable any investigation into potential criminal conduct uncovered by the royal commission

“IBAC would probably not be in a position to undertake an investigation of this likely scale and complexity without additional investigative and legal resources,” he said.

“Such an investigation would require the establishment of a dedicated, multi-disciplinary taskforce.”

Call for IBAC to be given more power, money to chase prosecutions

Retired judge Stephen Charles is a member of the Accountability Roundtable and a board member of the Centre for Public Integrity.

He said IBAC needs both more powers and more money.

“It lacks a number of investigative powers which are held by similar agencies in other Australian jurisdictions. It’s got no powers of arrest,” he said.

When IBAC was set up in 2012, it was given an annual budget of $40 million.

“That is no longer enough. It needs more and probably as much as 50 per cent more. That’s critical to enable it to carry out the investigations,” Mr Charles said.

Faruk Orman smiles as he walks out of court flanked by three lawyers.
Faruk Orman (second from right) with Ruth Parker (second from left) after his murder conviction was quashed in July 2019.(AAP: David Crosling)

Ruth Parker, of Galbally Parker Lawyers, represented Farouk Orman, the first person to be released from prison over the Lawyer X scandal.

She believes IBAC must be given additional powers by the Victorian Parliament to track down those who have committed some of the “most atrocious breaches of duty” she has ever seen.

“The matter can go back to Parliament. They (IBAC) can be empowered and they can properly investigate and prosecute on admissible evidence people who are responsible for crimes against justice,” she said.

A 2019 IBAC report, that remained secret until the legal scandal was exposed, found “negligence of a high order”, concluding that Victoria Police had failed to act in accordance with appropriate policies and procedures.