Police gave private Higgins document to defence lawyers

·3-min read

The ACT's top prosecutor concedes he potentially broke the law when he read Brittany Higgins' counselling notes, but says he was trying to protect her when he did it.

Shane Drumgold told an inquiry into how the ACT justice system handled rape allegations against Bruce Lehrmann he'd read the notes after police had given them to the accused's legal team before he'd even entered a plea regarding the matter.

The inquiry heard Mr Lehrmann's lawyers didn't access the impermissible material, but that it continued a perceived pattern of police leaking information against Ms Higgins.

But Mr Drumgold was in the firing line for reading the notes after they were shared.

Counsel assisting Erin Longbottom accused him of having a "cavalier attitude" to a potential breach of the Victims of Crime Act, but Mr Drumgold said the extent of the breach of Ms Higgins' privacy and her subsequent health was his major priority.

"The question I'm applying in my mind is let's say the strict application of a provision resulted in a death, how do I balance those things?" he told the inquiry.

"I know in the sterile environment of an inquiry these questions are very simply answered with reference to a piece of legislation ... the reality is at the time, there were strong competing forces."

Former Queensland solicitor-general Walter Sofronoff is leading the inquiry examining how territory police, prosecutors and a victim support service handled Ms Higgins' allegations.

Mr Drumgold earlier said he was "shocked" police had served an unredacted brief of evidence before a plea.

"I've already received information the complainant is highly vulnerable and I'm concerned this will aggravate that ... I want to give some solace this is not part of some attempt to derail the prosecution," he said.

"I already knew one or more police had taken a particular preliminary view on the brief, and I now knew ... some protected material had been served. Now I'm asking myself if those two things are connected."

Mr Sofronoff questioned if Mr Drumgold should have disqualified himself from running the case because he'd read the notes.

Earlier, Mr Drumgold denied he'd deliberately withheld documents from the defence team where police wrote "pejorative comments" about Ms Higgins.

Mr Drumgold was grilled on the department's disclosure of documents to the defence, where they didn't hand over one containing police criticism of Ms Higgins.

"I held a concern that a senior police officer ... reducing to writing pejorative comments about a complainant, if it falls into the ears of the complainant would be crushing and that would inhibit her ability to engage in trial," he said.

Mr Lehrmann faced an ACT Supreme Court trial in October 2022 but juror misconduct meant a verdict was not reached.

Prosecutors later dropped the charge against Mr Lehrmann because of concerns about the impact a second trial would have on Ms Higgins' mental health.

Mr Lehrmann denies raping Ms Higgins in Parliament House in 2019.