The biggest legal scandal in Australian history? Part 1.

Some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals could go free from prison, despite being sentenced to lengthy prison sentences (in some cases over 30 years imprisonment). This follows explosive revelations in December 2018 that a Victorian barrister who had acted for them had done the unimaginable.  This Victorian barrister has been given the name ‘Lawyer X’ by the courts in order to protect her identity, given that she is likely to be one of the most hunted people in Australia.

Some newspaper articles, magazines and websites will often use very bold and attention grabbing titles so that the readers are lured into reading the article. And very often, the title will turn out to be an exaggeration that was designed to trick the reader into reading the article.  However, we can assure you that the title of this article is very real and very accurate.  Over a two part series we’ll discuss what is very likely to be the biggest legal scandal in Australian history.

A lawyer’s role

Before we start discussing what Lawyer X did that was so bad it’s first necessary for us to explain a bit about a lawyer’s role in the justice system. A lawyer who is acting for a client owes a duty to their client, as well as the court.  That means that the lawyer must do everything that is in the best interests of the client, provided that they don’t harm the court by, for example, misleading the court.  This is a sworn oath that all lawyers in Australia and around the world and is a very simple concept.

What did Lawyer X did that was so bad?

Imagine you were charged with a serious crime and facing decades in prison if convicted. In a developed country like Australia, and even in undeveloped countries, if you have a good lawyer you can expect that you will receive the best possible representation and therefore achieve the best possible result.  If you have a bad lawyer, there is a chance that you won’t achieve the best possible result.  But what if your lawyer was only pretending to work for you?  Worse, your lawyer actually turned out to be helping the people who were trying to put you behind bars.  This is what happened in the case of Lawyer X, also known as ‘Informant 3838’, who, while representing some of the highest profile criminal defendants, was also registered as a police informant.

In December 2018 it was revealed that Lawyer X received millions of dollars from Victoria Police for information that helped put her own clients behind bars. And these weren’t just ordinary clients – these were some of the most violent criminals Australia has ever had, involved in serious organised crime, murder and high level drug trafficking.  Lawyers, like anyone else, can decide to register as police informants.  A police informant is someone who provides the police information in return for benefits, ordinarily money. However, what makes Lawyer X’s conduct so astounding is that the information that she was providing to the police was in relation to her own clients, while she was acting for them.  Even anyone who has a very basic understanding of legal principles and the rules of fairness can see what a serious situation this is with extremely serious consequences.

Melbourne’s ‘gangland wars’

Anyone who has watched the television series ‘Underbelly’ will be familiar with the characters that we are referring to. This series was based on true events involving real people.  The gangland war started in Melbourne in 1998 with the murder of gangster Alphonse Gangitano and claimed the lives of hit man Andrew Veniamin and Jason Moran, among others.  This war lasted several years during which many people were killed and significant quantities of drugs were trafficked – and at the centre of it all, representing many of these criminals, was Lawyer X.

The pressure on police and politicians to end the carnage was immense. While it’s not yet known who initiated the relationship with Lawyer X to work with the police it’s clear that whoever agreed for this special relationship to occur must have been very highly ranked.  It will be alleged it was that pressure that led police to team up with Lawyer X.  But what they did was, according to the High Court, “reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging (Lawyer X) to do as she did”.

The police were desperate to put an end to the gangland wars – but at what cost? If it meant crossing the line between legally right and legally wrong, was it worth it?  What if it meant that the convictions for the criminals involved would forever be at risk of being overturned?  How did all of this conduct become exposed?  And what are the likely consequences now for Lawyer X, Victoria Police and all of the criminals who were locked up because of their conduct?  These will discussed in the next article.

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