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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Tim Piccione

Senior prosecutor to be embedded in police sexual assault team

A senior prosecutor is set to be embedded within the territory police's sexual assault team following the damning findings of an inquiry into the Parliament House rape case.

An ACT government spokesperson said the embedded prosecutor's primary function would be to provide pre-charge and prosecutorial advice to police.

"And legal advice more generally, with respect to the law on sexual offending and the rules of evidence that are frequently engaged in sexual offence prosecutions," the spokesperson said

The seven-month pilot role is set to begin in December, a few months after the government announced it would support all 10 recommendations from the Board of Inquiry into the aborted rape case of Bruce Lehrmann.

One of those recommendations made by inquiry chairman Walter Sofronoff KC was for ACT Policing to define the threshold at which a person is charged for a crime.

In his evidence to the inquiry, former top prosecutor Shane Drumgold SC expressed concerns police were only charging where they believed there was a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Senior Constable Emma Frizzell conceded to the inquiry her understanding about the relevant legal threshold had been wrong.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury with acting Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Williamson SC, inset bottom, and Chief Police Officer, Neil Gaughan, inset top. Pictures by Keegan Carroll, Karleen Minney, Sitthixay Ditthavong

Asked if there was still "confusion or disagreement" among police officers about when to charge a suspect, the officer responded: "Yes, I would say that there is."

The government spokesperson said the pilot's aim was to continue the prosecuting office and police's "harmonised approach to the prosecution of sexual offending".

"It will see them working together more closely at an earlier stage in the criminal justice process, and increase the sharing of specialist information and experience in this field," they said.

In August, Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the Parliament House rape case should put police and prosecutors "on notice" about the need to work better together.

"One of the goals of this pilot is to ensure a seamless and efficient system, that will help improve the experience of people who come forward with complaints of sexual assault," Mr Rattenbury told The Canberra Times this week.

Victims of Crime Commissioner, Heidi Yates, who is said to support the initiative. Picture by Elesa Kurtz

"We want them to feel supported in their experience with the ACT justice system and for the process to be as clear as possible."

Last week, acting Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Williamson SC told a Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety hearing presumed hostility between police and the Office was a "misconception".

"The relationship is an extremely strong one, an extremely professional one," Mr Williamson said.

"It has been the cause of some frustration to me that in the immediate wake of Mr Sofronoff's inquiry there was media reporting, which I would suggest was inaccurate, that would suggest that the relationship was dysfunctional and there was a significant amount of acrimony between my office and that of the police.

"That's not the case at all."

The territory's acting top prosecutor told the hearing he and Chief Police Officer, Neal Gaughan, had both gone out of their way to make sure their relationship remained "strong and productive".

According to the Attorney-General, the incoming initiative is supported by Mr Williamson, Mr Gaughan, and Victims of Crime Commissioner, Heidi Yates.

A spokesperson said ACT Policing welcomed the "allocation of a specialist prosecutor embedded with investigators".

"The two agencies continue to maintain a close working relationship, with an ACT Policing liaison officer already based in the ACT DPP office," they said.

"To have a prosecutor embedded with our investigators can only be a positive step."

Mr Lehrmann has always denied raping Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in 2019, when the pair worked for Senator Linda Reynolds.

No findings were made against him, with the charge levelled at him eventually dropped.

  • Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 6247 2525.
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