2019 in Law: Lawyer X - and now Y and Z
This week, four Police Commissioners failed to answer questions. Now, we have every reason to be worried.
The story up to December 2018
To recap: Lawyer X was a police informant. She claimed that she provided information about her own clients to Victoria Police because she was worried at the impact and effect of drug crime and organised crime in Victoria. Victoria Police and Lawyer X asserted that she became an informant in 2005 and fed information to police while acting as defence lawyer for alleged and proven criminals.
However, of course, a lawyer cannot provide information about their own clients: at the least, it is confidential information and a breach of trust. At worst, it is a breach of lawyer-client privilege and completely inadmissible in a court of law. Numerous defendants, including some of the biggest names in Australian organised crime, were convicted due to information she provided. Their convictions and jail sentences are now in question.
Lawyer X has been around a lot longer than we thought...
The first is that Lawyer X was found to have been an informant, not since 2005, but since 1995. At that time, she was a law student. Media reports state that a traffickable amount of drugs and firearms were found in her home, which she shared with two drug dealers. The others received significant criminal sentences - but Lawyer X was only found guilty of minor drug charges and proceeded to become a lawyer in 1996.
This fact, on its own, throws in to doubt every statement that Lawyer X and Victoria Police have made about her history. Indeed, if false information was deliberately provided to a Court, Lawyer X and police officers involved may be looking at charges of perjury.
... the Commissioner had to quit...
The Royal Commission called to investigate these matters has now had to "move the goalposts"; their terms have been changed to extend back a further ten years or more to investigate what has happened. This has caused a conflict of interest for one of the two Commissioners - former Victorian police officer and later SA Police Commissioner Malcolm Hyde. He has voluntarily resigned and a new appointment is pending. (The other Commissioner, retired Queensland judge Margaret McMurdo, remains.)
... Lawyer X is not the only legal informant...
The third is the announcement that Lawyer X may be followed by Lawyers Y, Z, W and others. Victoria Police has so far identified "up to 5" other lawyers who were also informants during this period. The scale of this investigation is likely to grow exponentially.
...and the silence from other states is deafening.
Victoria (and its newspapers) have been giving nearly-daily coverage to this major case. Victoria Police buying off an informant who has undermined her own clients (allegedly) for 20 years.
One state has ruled it out: NSW. Police in that state say that they have checked all records back to 2003 and no lawyers were informants in NSW.
South Australia's response hardly engendered any trust:
"For the protection of individuals, South Australia Police will not provide any details of persons who are or have previously provided confidential information."
In plain terms, as the ABC put it: "SA Police cannot rule out use of lawyers as informants".
The greatest concern is that there has been no public comment by the police forces of Western Australia, Queensland or Tasmania. Given that this matter has now been a live issue for more than 2 years - and the scale is rapidly becoming massive - it does little for trust in police to have this issue drag on. Fortunately, it would seem - silence is not going to work this time.