More lawyers could be police informants in Australia
23 February 2019
Further revelations over the past week about the police recruitment of lawyers in Australia to inform on their clients, in violation of the fundamental principle of legal confidentiality, point to the full extent of the abuse being as yet unknown, but certainly systemic.
The affair has thrown a question mark over the entire legal system, undermining the very notion that defendants are guaranteed “fair trials” with the right to independent legal representation. Dozens, if not hundreds, of cases may have to be retried.
The legal and political implications are even broader. The methods involved could be used against anyone targeted by the police and intelligence agencies, particularly political activists.
Far from being confined to a few dozen convictions of “crime bosses” and “drug lords” in the state of Victoria, as the media and government figures have insisted, the use of police informants, including members of the legal profession, to frame up people or orchestrate incriminating information, is clearly much more widespread.
Eight years of efforts by the police and successive governments to cover up the recruitment of lawyers as informers on their clients began to collapse late last year, forcing the current Labor Party government to finally announce a royal commission into the scandal.
When the inquiry held a preliminary hearing last Friday, it was told that police had used or considered using at least eight lawyers or law clerks to provide information on their clients, and the true number could be higher.
The counsel assisting the inquiry, Chris Winneke, told the commissioner, Margaret McMurdo, a former judge: “Subsequent and ongoing investigations by the State and…