Lawyer X Royal Commission Makes Recommendations For Change

Family violence laws in WA have changed recently.

Late last year, after hearing more than 120 days of testimony from around 80 witnesses, the Royal Commission into the use of Nicola Gobbo (Lawyer X) as a police informant, delivered its final report.

Ultimately, the Commission found that the use of Ms Gobbo as a secret informer was a “systemic failure” and could not have happened without “critical failures of leadership and governance” within Victoria Police.

Victoria Police’s decision to use Nicola Gobbo (then a lawyer to some of Victoria’s most notorious criminals) as an informant without seeking legal advice has been described as “reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging” the barrister to inform against her clients.

And it has had widespread consequences, perhaps the most significant of which is reputational damage to the justice system.

Lawyer X - a ‘weapon’ in war time

When Victoria Police signed on Ms Gobbo as an informant in 2005, the gangland wars were raging. With violence on Melbourne’s streets and the death toll escalating Victoria Police were under significant pressure to end the bloodshed. Former Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton has defended the use of Nicola Gobbo as an informant, arguing that Ms Gobbo was a weapon in “a desperate and dangerous time” where “a genuine sense of urgency was enveloping the criminal justice system, including police”.

The use of Ms Gobbo between 2005 and 2009 resulted in Victoria Police putting many criminals behind bars, but, as the Royal Commission has made abundantly clear, this was never a justifiable means for securing convictions.

In fact, Ms Gobbo’s role as a police informant has tainted more than 1,000 cases because she was acting as a client’s lawyer or representing one of their co-accused. As a result of her breaching ‘client privilege’ and her duty to act in the best interests of her clients, many previously convicted criminals may now walk free. 

Drug kingpin Tony Mokbel has had his conviction for the importation of cocaine quashed by Victoria’s Court of Appeal on the basis that Nicola Gobbo had been a registered informant with Victorian Police while representing him.

He will remain in prison, serving time for other offences, but three other men have already been freed.

The first was Faruk Orman who was released early last year. He had been convicted as the getaway driver in the murder of killing of underworld figure Victor Peirce.

Late last year, Salvatore Agresta was granted bail while he awaits an appeal hearing for his conviction for smuggling millions of ecstasy pills in tomato tins from Italy in 2007. Agresta is appealing his conviction on the basis that he and other members of the drug syndicate would never have been caught without Ms Gobbo’s informing.

Zlate Cvetanovski was also acquitted of drug trafficking late last year after it was revealed Ms Gobbo had convinced a key witness to incriminate him. He has spent nearly a decade in prison.

Ms Gobbo’s life will ever be the same. She remains in hiding and last year the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner initiated proceedings in the state’s Supreme Court to have her struck off the legal roll in Victoria, which would mean that she can never practice law again.

And both the Victorian Police and the legal system in Victoria now face unprecedented challenges as they aim to restore public trust and integrity in the criminal justice system.

Royal Commission recommendations

To that end, the Royal Commission made 111 recommendations, including that the Victorian Government conduct a review of how the state’s police force uses its power, and that The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) be given more money to bring corrupt individuals and bodies to account.

The report further recommends that a special investigator be appointed to determine if Nicola Gobbo and Victoria Police had broken any laws by their conduct and, if so, that they be prosecuted over that conduct. This investigation is underway.

Mandatory reporting of misconduct

One of the most significant recommendations for reform is that reporting of misconduct be made mandatory for the legal profession.

Mandatory reporting of misconduct would require governments to create legislation to force criminal lawyers to speak up if they suspect corruption by those in the criminal justice system, including their peers. By and large the legal profession across Australia is highly supportive of this recommendation.

Regulations already exist within the legal profession protect both the consumer and public, as well as to support the proper administration of justice. These include duties relating to confidentiality, promoting their client’s best interests, and avoiding and disclosing any conflicts of interests, because it may consequently compromise a client’s right to a fair trial.

It’s not clear yet, what mandatory reporting will look like, or how it will be implemented in a practical way. And it is not an insignificant undertaking. However, as was discovered by the Royal Commission, the use of Ms Gobbo as an informant was well known by more than 100 people working in the Victorian Police force, including several at the highest levels of the organisation, and yet no one raised any issues or concerns about the arrangement, at any time.

It is possible that mandatory reporting may have meant that intervention could have occurred sooner, and the fallout from the Lawyer X scandal could potentially have been minimised. 

Experienced Criminal Lawyer

Andrew Williams has extensive experience in a wide range of criminal matters that come before the courts. He has acted on a large number of cases involving a wide range of criminal matters and is well equipped to represent clients on these matters.

If you find yourself facing a criminal charge, contact an experienced criminal lawyer at the Law Office of Andrew Williams on (08) 9278 2575 to attain advice and representation or enquire online today.

PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.

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