The chair of the ACT board of inquiry that examined the Parliament House rape trial has admitted to handing his report to selected journalists before handing it to the Chief Minister, the ACT government has confirmed.
Walter Sofronoff KC "has provided the government with a detailed written explanation for why he chose to release the report to selected journalists prior to providing it to the Chief Minister", a government spokeswoman said.
Part of the reason is understood to be Mr Sofronoff's wish that the media outlets would be able to accurately and extensively report on the inquiry's findings shortly after the report was formally released by the ACT government.
Mr Sofronoff has not made any public comments since confirming to the ACT government he had provided the inquiry report to what the territory said was "select media outlets" under an embargo.
News.com.au on Friday reported Mr Sofronoff had told the government he provided a copy of the report to two media outlets in a letter it claimed to have obtained.
"I provided a copy of the report to Ms Janet Albrechtsen and Ms Elizabeth Byrne, both those names undoubtedly known to you,'' Mr Sofronoff was reported to have written.
"Each of them was sent a copy upon the express agreement by them that the copy was embargoed until the government had published it."
Albrechsten is a journalist on The Australian, while Byrne is a reporter for the ABC.
Mr Sofronoff is reported to have written the early release of the report "served to ensure that when the government published the report that those two journalists would be in a position swiftly and promptly to write and broadcast stories that would have at their foundation a true appreciation of the result of the work of the Commission".
The Canberra Times has not independently cited Mr Sofronoff's letter.
The Australian reported on the contents of the board of inquiry report about 9.30pm on Wednesday. On Friday, the newspaper said it had not breached an embargo and it would not reveal the source of the leak.
The ABC published a story independently citing a copy of the report on Thursday afternoon. The ABC would not comment when asked if it had received the report from the board of inquiry.
The ACT government spokeswoman on Friday would not be drawn on whether Mr Sofronoff could face penalties outlined in the Inquiries Act for the unauthorised disclosure of information acquired as part of the work of the board.
The maximum penalty for breaching the disclosure rules, 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.
"The government remains extremely disappointed in this action, but at this time, our focus is on responding to the report and ensuring procedural fairness is afforded to all parties named in it," the spokeswoman said.
The Inquiries Act requires a board of inquiry to prepare a report and submit the report to the Chief Minister, who then has control over when it is released.
Andrew Barr must either ultimately table the report in the Legislative Assembly or provide a written statement explaining why it would not be published.
The ACT government on Thursday confirmed it would bring forward the formal release of the report to "early next week".
The Chief Minister had originally intended to table the report and the government's response when the Legislative Assembly sat later this month.
An ACT government spokeswoman sensationally revealed the board of inquiry to be the source of the leaked report in a statement issued just before 5pm on Thursday.
"The release of information about the inquiry outside of the government procedures has affected the inquiry process and harmed people involved. It further contributes to the ongoing public discussion of the matter that has been very difficult for all of the individuals impacted," the spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman said the government was confident the report was not obtained by journalists from the government.