Increasing evidence of unethical collusion between lawyers and police officers is undermining the integrity of the criminal justice system. Hitherto, the outrageous breach of principle – the right to a fair trial and to the presumption of innocence – was thought, or hoped, to be limited to the charging and prosecution of key figures of Melbourne’s murderous struggle between organised criminals in the 2000s.
In December, the Victorian government launched a royal commission after the High Court, in one of its most excoriating judgments, ended a long, multimillion-dollar attempt by Victoria Police to suppress information about a lawyer known as Informer 3838. It now transpires that this lawyer had been recruited to the role a full decade before the police had admitted, and that five other lawyers and other professionals sworn to client confidentiality are suspected of similar culpability. The revelation only came to light after documents were discovered in a cardboard box in the police archives.
The crisis further diminishes the standing of police after a series of scandals including brutality, interfering with witnesses, faking evidence, bullying and harassment.
There are pressing questions. Does Victoria Police still have any such informers? If so, why and how many? How could it ever have thought such behaviour might be acceptable? Can the public trust the system? Can a defendant ever trust their own lawyers?