Accredited criminal law specialist and lawyer, George Defteros has welcomed the news that a royal commission will be established in Victoria to look at the recruitment of police informants, following the ‘LawyerX’ case which emerged this week after Victoria’s highest court overturned years of suppression orders preventing publishing details of the story regarding a barrister who represented notorious underworld figures, while acting as a police informant against some of her clients from 2003, but mainly between 2005 and 2009.
“Ι have been calling for a Royal Commission in to this matter since 2004,” Mr Defteros told Neos Kosmos.
Mr Defteros says the Royal Commission should look into all paid police informers and not only to this particular lawyer, who is known to the police as Informer 3838 and cannot be named for fear of her safety.
Mr Defteros, who represented many of the same clients the ‘LlawyerX’ represented, repeated what he told Neos Kosmos, back in 2014, that the revelations completely discredit the respect of the court and will have judges and those convicted pushing for retrials.
He says he will be too happy to be called and give evidence at the Royal Commission.
The announcement of a royal commission followed the lifting of suppression orders on a case decided in the High Court last month involving Victoria Police, the lawyer-turned-informant and the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, announcing the Royal Commission, expressed his concern over the handling of the informer.
“The integrity of the criminal justice system is paramount and all people charged with crimes are entitled to a fair trial, no matter who they are,” Mr Andrews said.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said that since 2009 changes have been made to the way the police manages informants, which would prevent the same thing happening today.
Mr Ashton said people needed to understand the context of how the lawyer ended up becoming an informer.
“Melbourne was in the grip of what now is know widely as the Gangland Wars. Over the proceeding 12 months numerous people had been murdered – some in very public locations and high profile criminals were vying for control of drug operations that were inflicting serious harm on the Victorian community,” he said.
Victoria’s new Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told ABC Radio Melbourne the Government continues to have complete confidence in Commissioner Ashton.
Mr Defteros told Neos Kosmos that the use of a barrister as a police informer “has created an explosive legal scandal.”
The revelations open up the prospect of criminals having their convictions overturned and walking free from prison, and potentially expose the state to claims for compensation from those affected by the lawyer’s work as an informant.
The lawyer, who had acted for gangsters including deceased crime boss Carl Williams and Tony Mokbel, who was arrested in Greece and is currently serving 30 years in jail for masterminding a sophisticated drug cartel, began working for police in mid-2003 when she met approximately six times with a Detective Sergeant of the Purana Taskforce, who was investigating Melbourne gangland crime. Court documents released on Monday revealed the lawyer claimed to have helped police in as many as 386 cases, including that of Mokbel.
Mr Defteros says lawyers have an obligation to act in the best interests of their clients and information given to a barrister by their client must be treated with strict confidentiality.
“It is very important that someone practising in the law maintains confidentiality and legal professional privilege at all times,” says Mr Defteros.
The royal commission will provide an interim report by 1 July with a final expected by 1 December.