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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Jasper Lindell

Sofronoff could face Integrity Commission over board of inquiry leaks

Walter Sofronoff KC. Picture supplied

Board of inquiry chairman Walter Sofronoff KC, who leaked his own report to the media before handing it to the government, could face an Integrity Commission investigation, the Chief Minister has indicated.

Andrew Barr also revealed Mr Sofronoff briefed some journalists on forthcoming matters that would be subject to public hearings the day before.

"There's been no apology at this point. He has sought to provide an explanation," Mr Barr said.

Asked whether he would like to see Mr Sofronoff charged, the Chief Minister said the government was considering its options.

"He breached his good faith to me by releasing that report ahead of giving it to who he was meant to under the legislation," Mr Barr said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr speaks to media on Monday. Picture by Karleen Minney

Mr Barr said the ACT government would seek advice on whether a full referral to the commission was the best way to investigate the conduct of the inquiry, which was established to examine the handling of the Parliament House rape trial.

The Chief Minister said Mr Sofronoff had admitted to discussing upcoming public hearings of the board with journalists and had not apologised for giving the report of the inquiry to two media outlets, in one case before giving it to the government.

The government said it was considering strengthening the provisions of section 17 of the Inquiries Act 1991, which set out penalties for disclosing information from a board of inquiry.

"The intent of any changes will be to provide the ACT government and the Canberra community with assurance that the unapproved release that occurred on this occasion will not occur for any inquiry that may be commissioned in the future," the pair said.

Mr Barr and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury released the full report of the board of inquiry on Monday afternoon, after its contents had been published by The Australian on Wednesday night last week and by the ABC on Thursday.

Mr Sofronoff wrote to Mr Barr last week confirming he had given the report to two media outlets. The letter is now subject to a freedom-of-information request.

The board of inquiry chairman also provided a copy to the solicitor representing Brittany Higgins, Mr Barr said.

Mr Barr on Monday said: "By way of background information, Mr Sofronoff confirms that he, quote, sometimes told journalists what appeared to him to be the issues that would arise on the following day's hearings."

The Chief Minister said Mr Sofronoff had advised him that advance copies of the report were provided to only two journalists.

"He went on to advise me that from his previous experience as well as his experience in this inquiry had led him to conclude that it was possible to identify journalists who are ethical and who understand the importance of their role and conduct of a public inquiry," he said.

Mr Barr said Mr Sofronoff had advised that he had judged the two journalists to whom he gave copies to be professionals who would "not take the serious step of betraying his trust by behaving unprofessionally".

The Australian published much of the report's findings on Wednesday night, but denied breaching an embargo.

Mr Barr indicated it would have been a significant coincidence for The Australian to have been provided a second, non-embargoed copy after Mr Sofronoff had confirmed the newspaper had already been provided a copy by him.

"Well, I'm sure Mr Sofronoff is not the first person who has had their confidences breached by that media outlet," Mr Barr said.

The maximum penalty for breaching the disclosure rules in the Inquiries Act, which govern the release by board members and staff of "information acquired ... under or for this Act", is an $8000 fine or a six-month jail term. The Canberra Times does not suggest Mr Sofronoff's actions constitute a breach of the law.

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