Tony Mokbel is among those seeking to reduce his jail term.
Tony Mokbel is among those seeking to reduce his jail term.

Royal commission to probe Lawyer X gangland scandal

Victoria Police has been slammed by the High Court over its use of a high-profile gangland lawyer - dubbed Lawyer X - to inform on her criminal clients, with the Premier ordering a royal commission into the legal scandal that could see more than 600 cases tainted.

After a legal battle spanning more than four years, the Herald Sun can today reveal the Director of Public Prosecutions will send out notifications to at least 20 former clients of Lawyer X to inform them their convictions may have been compromised.

The move could see some of Victoria's most high profile criminals, including drug kingpin Tony Mokbel and mafia figure Pat Barbaro, walk out of jail.

In making a landmark decision to allow notifications to go out, the High Court today slammed Victoria Police over "reprehensible" and "atrocious" conduct, saying: "It is greatly to be hoped that it will never be repeated."

As the government announced a royal commission into the police use of Lawyer X, also known as "informer 3838", those closest have described it as the biggest scandal in Australia's legal history.

Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said in a prepared statement at 3pm that Victoria Police would co-operate fully with a royal commission.

"I want to make it clear at the outset that I acknowledge the decision of the High Court which has determined that our use of a lawyer as an informer between 2005 and 2009 was not appropriate," he said.

"It is important to stress that Victoria Police has implemented substantial reforms since 2009 that have comprehensively changed the way that we manage informers, indeed what happened between 2005 and 2009 could not happen under our current policies."

Mr Ashton said in the press conference he had been told 20 people would be given letters by the Director of Public Prosecutions informing them their cases may be tainted.

Another two would be written to by the Commonwealth Office of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Ashton said the force had established a taskforce, codenamed Landow, to deal with the legal implications.

He also took the opportunity to defend the organisation, which employed the tactic while the gangland war raged, stating that he supported the officers who had "acted in good faith".

"The Royal Commission will determine what mistakes were made,'' he said.

Mr Ashton said the informer remained at risk.

Pasquale Barbaro was jailed over what was the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.
Pasquale Barbaro was jailed over what was the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

He said they believed the informer would be murdered if the information came out, and said he would not apologise for appealing the case to the High Court.

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said he wanted to offer his "complete support" to past and present police officers throughout the investigation process.

"In light of the Government's announcement of a royal commission into investigative practices employed by Victoria Police over a decade ago, The Police Association Victoria would like to publicly reassure any of our members impacted, both past and present, that they will have our complete support throughout this process," he said.

"We have full confidence that they acted in good faith in what was an extremely complex policing environment and an incredibly dangerous period in Victoria's history."

Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC confirmed she would send out notifications to the former clients of Lawyer X.

Lawyer X was a registered informer from 2005 to 2009.

"Following judgments published today by the High Court of Australia and Supreme Court of Victoria, I have written to 20 individuals in relation to their criminal prosecutions," Ms Judd said in statement.

"Other cases are being assessed. If appropriate, I will also write to those affected individuals."

The Herald Sun believes as many as 631 cases could be affected.

Drug boss Tony Mokbel and his brother Milad are believed to be among the seven.

Mafia head Pat Barbaro, and major drug traffickers Rob Karam and John Higgs are among numerous organised crime barons who could also walk out of jail or have their sentences slashed as a result.

As the police scheme - devised in a bid to stop the gangland war - faced increasing scrutiny in closed courts over the past four years, unprecedented suppressions stopped the Herald Sun from revealing the full extent of the Lawyer X scandal.

But the High Court's decision published this morning to allow the DPP to alert criminals over the "systemic" misconduct is expected to trigger a domino of revelations and legal actions which will embroil police bosses, government agencies, some in the judiciary and political leaders.

In highly-secretive court documents, the lawyer was also known as EF.

"EF's (Lawyer X's) actions in purporting to act as counsel for the Convicted Persons while covertly informing against them were fundamental and appalling breaches of EF's obligations as counsel to her clients and of EF's (Lawyer X's) duties to the court," the High Court said.

"Likewise, Victoria Police were guilty of reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging EF (Lawyer X) to do as she did and were involved in sanctioning atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer to discharge all duties imposed on them faithfully and according to law without favour or affection, malice or ill-will.

"The prosecution of each convicted person was corrupted in a manner which debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system.

"The public interest favouring disclosure is compelling: the maintenance of the integrity of the criminal justice system demands that the information be disclosed and that the propriety of each Convicted Person's conviction be re-examined in light of the information.

"The public interest in preserving EF's (Lawyer X's) anonymity must be subordinated to the integrity of the criminal justice system."

In deciding to lift the veil of secrecy over the scandal, the High Court said: "The very great importance of ensuring that the court's processes are used fairly and of preserving public confidence in the court meant that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in immunity."

A royal commission will happen

Premier Daniel Andrews has today ordered a royal commission into the Lawyer X scandal.

He said it was to inquire firstly into how many cases are directly impacted, secondly what changes need to be made regarding management of informers, and what to do about current cases.

Answers to the first part of the probe are due to be delivered by July 1.

The inquiry will consider matters including:

- The number of, and extent to which, cases were affected by the conduct of Lawyer X as a human source and the recruitment, handling and management of Lawyer X as a human source by Victoria Police;

- Current management processes for human sources with legal obligations of confidentiality or privilege, including continued compliance with the recommendations of the 2015 IBAC report;

- The use in the criminal justice system of information from human sources who are subject to legal obligations of confidentiality or privilege, including any safeguards in the way in which cases are assessed and recommended for prosecution, and prosecuted by Victoria Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions;

- Recommended measures to address failures in Victoria Police's processes for the recruitment, handling and management of human sources who are subject to legal obligations of confidentiality or privilege, and in the use of such human source information in the criminal justice system, including how those failures may be avoided in future.

What does the informer scandal mean?

Lawyer X's actions are unprecedented in Australia's criminal history.

Lawyer X used the secrets of her clients, and others she had dealings with, many of which were provided under the cloak of confidential privilege, to aid police in their prosecutions.

Lawyer X's recruitment as an informer also brings into question the actions of police command, including former chief commissioners Simon Overland and Christine Nixon, as well as prosecuting and government agencies who were thought to be privy to the arrangement.

There had already been calls for a Royal Commission.

Lawyer X had dealings with some of the gangland's biggest names including Mokbel, Carl Williams and Mick Gatto.

Others included the Calabrian Mafia's biggest drug cooks, outlaw bikies and the most deadly triggermen of the gangland war.

Lawyer X was officially registered by the "Human Source Unit'' as informer 3838 in 2005, with her information pivotal to the gangland taskforce headed by Mr Overland, called Purana.

As a registered informer, she provided 128 verbal briefings to police and about 5500 information reports.

But her informing is believed to have begun years beforehand.

Mr Overland is thought to be the architect of several operations under scrutiny.

High-ranking officers have been accused of abandoning protocols in protecting Lawyer X's conflicted status, known in legal circles as an "agent provocateur".

Drug baron Tony Mokbel is looking to cut his jail time.
Drug baron Tony Mokbel is looking to cut his jail time.

Her informer role also created a bitter divide between Mr Overland, then chief commissioner, and his deputy Sir Ken Jones, who warned of an "abuse of the criminal court process".

Which cases did Lawyer X inform on?

Among her informing, Lawyer X provided information reports over the 2003 murder of male prostitute and self-proclaimed vampire Shane Chartres-Abbott and the so-called Tomato Tins case involving the importation of 15 million ecstasy tablets organised by the Calabrian Mafia.

Tomato Tins syndicate member and Mokbel associate Rob Karam, serving a 37-year sentence over multiple commercial quantity drug trafficking convictions, was the first to launch an appeal on July 22, 2016.

Calabrian mafia boss Pasquale 'Pat' Barbaro intends to appeal his conviction because Lawyer X was his lawyer.

It is claimed the lawyer was used by police to intercept a "bill of lading'' identifying the drug-filled container in the Tomato Tins case and acted as an "agent provocateur'' in a bugging sting.

It can be revealed Mr Overland had meetings with Lawyer X, some at the Kew Golf Club, as part of his strategy to end the gangland war.

Lawyer X was deregistered as an informer after 2009 after a falling out with police.

 

 

The ‘Tomato Tins’ bust was the world’s biggest at the time.
The ‘Tomato Tins’ bust was the world’s biggest at the time.

What the letters to criminals will say

A Court of Appeal document released today reveals what the Director of Public Prosecutions sought to tell convicted criminals in the "disclosure letters" alerting them that their cases could have been tainted.

"IBAC produced a confidential report (the "Kellam Report") last year, relating to the use by Victoria Police of a certain legal practitioner (to whom I will refer as ''3838'') as a registered human source - that is, a police informer," the notification letter proposes to say.

"The matter that I wish to disclose to you is that the material contained in the Kellam Report could be interpreted to mean that at or about a time when 3838 was your legal representative in relation to charges for which you were later convicted, 3838 was also providing information to Victoria Police about you, in possible breach of legal professional privilege and/or in breach of a duty of confidentiality."

Letters to four criminals were also proposed to include: "Further, I wish to disclose to you that some material contained in the Kellam Report could also be interpreted to mean that certain persons who made statements against you, in the matters for which you were convicted, may have been legally represented by 3838 at or about the same time that 3838 was providing information to Victoria Police about those persons, and possible breach of legal professional privilege and/or in breach of a duty of confidentiality."

How was the scandal exposed?

An anti-corruption IBAC inquiry in 2014 - conducted by Justice Murray Kellam AO QC - was sparked by the Herald Sun's investigation into the issue.

Shane Chartres-Abbott, self-confessed vampire and prostitute, was murdered the day after this photo was taken in 2003.
Shane Chartres-Abbott, self-confessed vampire and prostitute, was murdered the day after this photo was taken in 2003.

The IBAC inquiry found that police had failed to act in accordance with its policies and their use of Lawyer X "had the potential to have adversely affected the administration of justice in Victoria''.

Victoria Police has since spent millions of dollars attempting to protect Lawyer X, the integrity of its informer program and its convictions.

Lawyer X previously told the Court of Appeal that the "whole world" knew who she was soon after the Herald Sun revealed the scandal of her informing in March, 2014.

"When I say 'the whole world,' I probably should clarify that to anyone who would have a reason to harm me, because the people - a lot of people in prison, the Herald Sun is their Bible. It's known as the Bible in there," she said in evidence.

"There was a - initially, when the first article came out and it said (Lawyer X) there was a bit of speculation about who it was. But as more articles came out, anyone who would want to do me harm or was sitting in prison would read the stories about (Lawyer X) and know it was me."

She said she became a "persona non grata" to her colleagues in the legal profession.

The police high-risk strategy may not only cost them convictions but could lead to charges against officers over the systemic misconduct in a scheme that endangered lives.

Some officers who worked closely with Lawyer X expressed disquiet at the time about the legalities of her use as a source.

The tipping point of the saga came two years after the informer scandal was exposed.

The force was blindsided when then DPP John Champion decided he must send letters informing all those represented by the lawyer their cases may have been tainted due to her informer status.

It forced Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton in 2016 to take civil action against the DPP to stop the letters being sent - which would confirm Lawyer X was an informer.

It was taken to the Supreme Court before Justice Timothy Ginnane, who ruled against police, before police appealed and lost at the Court of Appeal and finally the High Court over two years.

Former Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland.
Former Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland.

Lawyer X was also party to the action, with evidence also given by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

It was so secretive it was labelled AB v CD v EF.

Last month, the High Court of Australia rejected the police's last-gasp appeal.

As in other related cases, the justices have been highly critical of Victoria Police's tactics.

The decision has already applied pressure on the Andrews Government to establish a Royal Commission into police corruption.

A police taskforce has been formed to handle the Lawyer X cases.

Subpoenas have been lodged demanding information which was protected under Public Interest Immunity - a legal protection for informers and sensitive police information - until last month.

It is not known whether Lawyer X is the only lawyer to have turned police informer.

Anthony.dowsley@news.com.au