Revelations of further police informants has ‘undermined faith in our justice system’
Reacting to yesterday’s news that Victoria Police had informed the state’s royal commission that there were additional informants with obligations of confidentiality, lawyers have called the situation “gravely concerning”.
Yesterday, the Andrews government in Victoria announced it was amending the Terms of Reference for the state’s Royal Commission into Management of Police Informants, in light of new information from Victoria Police of additional informants who held obligations of confidentiality, leading to the resignation of one commissioner for potential conflicts.
In light of revelations from Victoria Police that the informant “at the centre of the matter”, Lawyer X, was first registered as an informant in 1995, the Terms of Reference are to be amended “to remove any doubt that the commission is empowered to consider these matters”, state attorney-general Jill Hennessy said.
The TOR were first drafted on the understanding that Lawyer X – otherwise known as Informer 3838 – became a registered police informant in 2005.
Former South Australian police commissioner Malcolm Hyde subsequently resigned as a commissioner, due to the potential for overlap between the matters of interest and his time at Victoria Police.
The alleged actions of both the police and the informants involved in the Royal Commission into the Management of Informants have “undermined faith in our justice system”, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
“It is gravely concerning that the scope of the royal commission has expanded to include the conduct of additional informers who held a duty of confidentiality,” said ALA Victorian state president Tom Ballantyne.
“All legal professionals are acutely aware of their professional and ethical obligations in relation to confidentiality and the alleged conduct by Informer 3838 is not reflective of the profession as a whole.”
Likewise, he continued, there are very serious questions to be asked about the conduct of police.
“The High Court described police’s use of the lawyer, known as Informer 3838 or Lawyer X, as ‘reprehensible conduct’ which involved sanctioning ‘atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer’.”
It is essential, he posited, that the “integrity of the justice system is protected”, and the ALA reiterated that it fully supports the work of the royal commission.
The Law Council added that, like the rest of the community, it is “shocked at any allegations” of lawyers breaching client privilege.
“Client legal privilege is a fundamental protection and pillar of the Australian legal system. Breaches of privilege not only erode the lawyer-client relationship, by impairing the trust and confidence a client would otherwise have, they are also damaging to the legal profession,” the national advocacy body said in a statement.
“The role of lawyers is to represent their clients and breaching privilege is not only deeply disturbing, it is an affront to the rule of law.”
Robinson Gill Lawyers principal Jeremy King’s response was directed at the now-former commissioner, tweeting the following: “I always had deep reservations about Hyde as a commissioner given the fact that it was another example of police investigating their own. It shouldn’t have taken this bombshell to make the Vic [government] see the conflict as well.”
Comment was sought from the Victorian Bar, Australian Bar Association, NSW Bar Association and Bar Association of Queensland. The Victorian Bar had no comment to make at present, and the other associations did not respond before the filing of this story.