Insight from our team of leading criminal lawyers: Man walks free from prison after murder conviction overturned over Lawyer X scandal
How can you get convictions overturned, especially when dealing with seemingly hardened ‘ criminals’? Earlier this year, I wrote two articles focusing on the enormous scandal that has been unfolding in Victoria involving ‘Lawyer X’. This person has now revealed to be a woman by the name of Nicola Gobbo.
Summary of past events
You can review these articles. However, for your convenience, a short summary is as follows.
- In the 1990s and early 2000s, Ms Gobbo was a very prominent criminal barrister. She was working in Victoria for some of the most notorious, dangerous and high profile criminals in the state.
- Most of these people were investigated for the most serious of crimes, including murder, extortion and drug trafficking. Many of them ended up dead or being locked away in prison for a very long time.
- However, it has recently been revealed that Ms Gobbo was a police informant. The definition of this is a person who was employed by the police to provide them with information.
- What was even more astounding was that Ms Gobbo was even providing the police with information. Especially given this was against her own clients, while she was representing them.
As I mentioned in these articles, as far as I’m aware this sort of situation has never occurred anywhere in the world at any time. It is a real reflection of how desperate the Victorian Police must have been to put an end to the gangland wars that were occurring at the time. Ms Gobbo’s evidence led to the investigation and conviction of many people for very serious crimes. This prompted a Royal Commission to investigate how this could’ve ever happened.
The first conviction overturned
Undoubtedly, Ms Gobbo’s conduct would have resulted in some people being deprived of a fair trial. Due to this, it was only a matter of time until these convictions were overturned. On 26 July 2019, Faruk Orman, walked free from a Melbourne court after his conviction was quashed. Orman was jailed for the 2002 murder of underworld figure Victor Peirce. He is the first person to get out of jail as a result of Ms Gobbo’s actions.
Mr Orman was found guilty by a Supreme Court jury of being the getaway driver in the killing of Peirce. Peirce was shot dead as he sat in his car in Port Melbourne in 2002. Mr Orman has always professed his innocence and appealed against his conviction all the way to the High Court.
Why was the conviction tainted?
The Victorian Court of Appeal heard that while Ms Gobbo was acting for Mr Orman, she encouraged the key witness against him to give evidence at his trial. The witness against Mr Orman was referred to as Witness Q. He was a former client of Ms Gobbo’s. Witness Q told police Mr Orman had confessed to being the getaway driver when another man, Mr Andrew ‘Benji’ Veniamin shot Mr Peirce.
While working as a defence lawyer for Mr Orman in November 2007, Ms Gobbo heard Witness Q wanted to withdraw his evidence. She contacted her police handlers and encouraged them to visit the witness to “put him straight”. They did so, and Witness Q’s evidence was crucial in Mr Orman’s conviction. Essentially, Ms Gobbo orchestrated the police to become involved in such a way as to interfere with the free decision of Witness Q to withdraw his evidence. Thereby, she forced Witness Q to give evidence against his wishes.
The President of the Court of Appeal, Chris Maxwell, said Ms Gobbo’s actions were a fundamental breach of her legal obligations. Both to her client and to the court. “On the facts conceded, Ms Gobbo’s conduct subverted Mr Orman’s right to a fair trial and went to the very foundation of the system of criminal trial,” he said. “There was, accordingly, a substantial miscarriage of justice. The appeal must therefore be allowed.”
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC, told the court that when she looked at the case she found material that contradicted the allegations against Mr Orman. “There may be some substance to the allegations [against Mr Orman], there may be not,” she said. But she said once she had established beyond doubt that Ms Gobbo’s actions had caused a substantial miscarriage of justice, there was no need to look at the evidence any further. Given Mr Orman had already served 12 years of a 20-year sentence, she conceded it would be unjust to order a retrial.
Will there be other convictions overturned?
It doesn’t end here for Mr Orman. I believe that he is almost certainly going to sue the Victorian Government for his wrongful conviction. There appears to be at least a good chance of success for him. However, it won’t stop there. Mr Orman’s matter is just the first of what I expect will be many convictions overturned due to Ms Gobbo’s actions. I forecast in the course of the next decade or so that these matters will be revealed. This is given the enormous amount of material that needs to be considered. Plus, the number of clients that Ms Gobbo acted for.
As these events unfold I will report them back to my readers.
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