Australia inquiry finds misconduct by prosecutor linked to parliament rape trial

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian inquiry said in a report on Monday that it had found serious misconduct by a public prosecutor in connection with the trial of a former political staffer accused of raping a colleague in Parliament House.

Brittany Higgins, an ex-staffer for former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, went public in 2021 with the accusation that she had been sexually assaulted by Bruce Lehrmann in a ministerial office at Parliament House in March 2019.

Reuters does not usually identify victims of sex crimes but Higgins went public with the accusation.

Prosecutors in December dropped charges against Lehrmann over fears the trial was harming Higgins’ mental health. Lehrmann, who worked in the same office as Higgins, pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence.

In an 839-page report released on Monday, the inquiry said the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, tried to deny key documents to the defence, lost his objectivity at times and that he “did not act with fairness and detachment as was required by his role”.

“Regrettably, I have found it necessary to make several serious findings of misconduct on the part of Mr Shane Drumgold,” said former Queensland state judge Walter Sofronoff, who led the inquiry.

The ACT government in December set up the inquiry to check the conduct of criminal justice agencies after allegations of political interference in the trial.

Drumgold resigned on Sunday after learning the findings of the report, the government said. It was considering whether to prosecute Drumgold and had asked him to respond to the findings.

In a statement, Drumgold acknowledged he had made mistakes but disputed many adverse findings against him, media reported.

Drumgold could not be immediately reached by Reuters, while the office of the director of public prosecutions did not respond to a request for comment.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said his government would check if it was against the law that two journalists had received the inquiry report before it was made public.

“This action, and the subsequent reporting that has followed, has interfered with the due process that should have been afforded to impacted parties,” Barr told reporters.

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; editing by Robert Birsel)

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