DPP regrets on Lisa’s Logies speech
The ACT’s top prosecutor has stood by his decision not to publicly clear broadcaster Lisa Wilkinson of contempt after a Logies victory speech delayed the trial of Bruce Lehrmann.
Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexually assaulting his former colleague Brittany Higgins. The original trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.
A retrial did not proceed due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health. Mr Lehrmann has vehemently denied the allegations and there have been no findings against him. The DPP dropped the sexual assault charge.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC was the first witness to appear before an inquiry into how criminal justice agencies handled the case.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Erin Longbottom KC, spent much of Monday dissecting the events leading up to Ms Wilkinson’s Logies speech, and how Mr Drumgold handled the fallout.
The Network 10 journalist won the award for her interview with Ms Higgins about her allegations against Mr Lehrmann.
The publicity surrounding the speech, which occurred just a week out from the trial’s original start date, led to Mr Lehrmann’s legal team successfully arguing for a delay to proceedings.
On Monday, Mr Drumgold was repeatedly questioned about a meeting he held with Ms Wilkinson four days ahead of the award ceremony, in which he told her “we are not speech editors”.
He told the inquiry he advised her that any publicity could lead to a stay application. However, Mr Drumgold did not explicitly tell her not to make the remarks, believing her attempt to read out her pre-prepared remarks were “in the flavour” of bragging about her nomination.
“In hindsight it was not an unlikely hypothetical … I should have paid closer attention at the time,” he told the inquiry.
“I accept that I entirely misread the situation.
“I thought this was somebody telling me they were up for an award for an interview. I thought that was the heart of what was being said. It was qualified by it’s ‘probably not going to happen’.”
Mr Drumgold’s response to Ms Wilkinson was first made public during the stay application and at the time, there were calls within the media for the broadcaster to be charged in contempt of court.
In correspondence tendered to the inquiry, Mr Wilkinson’s lawyer Marlia Saunders alleged her client had been treated unfairly.
“You have not corrected the record in relation to what occurred during the 15 June, 2022 meeting by clarifying that there was no positive direction … not to give a speech,” she said.
“You’ve not publicly confirmed that you do not consider Ms Wilkinson’s conduct amounting to contempt of court.”
She repeatedly asked for him to correct the record but Mr Drumgold did not do so. He did concede he should have afforded Ms Saunders the professional courtesy of a response.
Asked about the matter on Monday, the DPP said it was not his place to correct “false media reports”.
“What I was being asked to do (by Ms Saunders) is completely beyond my remit,” he said.
“Whatever sympathy I have for Ms Wilkinson, I’m not a publicist, I’m the DPP.”
Earlier, Ms Longbottom questioned Mr Drumgold why he told the court during the stay application that the file notes from the Ms Wilkinson meeting were made contemporaneously.
She put to the prosecutor that his statement was knowingly false because a junior colleague, Skye Jerome, noted the conversation days after the meeting took place.
Mr Drumgold acknowledged the error and said “in a perfect world” he would have checked who had contributed what to the note.
The DPP is the first witness to appear at the inquiry which is set to hear from central figures involved in the prosecution.
Defence counsel Steven Whybrow SC is also listed to appear before the inquiry, which is the ACT’s equivalent of a royal commission, during the first module.
Mr Lehrmann, who is not expected to provide evidence to the inquiry, made a surprise appearance and sat through the day’s evidence in the back of the public gallery.
Retired judge Walter Sofronoff KC is presiding over the matter and is due to report back to the ACT government by July 31.