The Lawyer X Royal Commission Findings: Part 1, Victoria Police

Last week, the Victorian Royal Commission in the Management of Police Informants released its final report and recommendations. The commission was launched after the identity of Nicola Gobbo (“Lawyer X”) as an informant for Victoria Police was made public by the High Court in December 2018. In the mid- to late 2000s, Gobbo was simultaneously acting as both police informant and defence counsel for dozens of organised crime figures.

The existence of a police informant “Lawyer X” was first alleged in a Herald Sun article in 2014. Many of the royal commission’s findings have already been reported based on the public hearings, but the final report still brings together a trove of information on Gobbo and the conduct of Victoria Police.

Gobbo’s informing was not carefully curated by a rogue actor or actors within the police. On the contrary, it seems to have been an open secret among detectives. According to the commission, over 100 police officers knew the status of the prominent defence counsel as a police informant.

Because of this absolute conflict of interest, there are now 1,011 convictions at risk of being overturned. A special investigator will be exploring the possibility of prosecutions against the police involved. There are suggestions from the Director of Public Prosecutions that Victoria Police may have misled the High Court.

The commission also documents a legally and ethically tenuous commitment by VicPol to keep their conduct regarding Gobbo hidden from public view, the principal tool of which was public interest immunity claims. Strikingly, the commission’s efforts to investigate other unethical uses of “human sources” were similarly stymied by public interest immunity; the police refused to hand over information to the commission about 11 further informants, on public interest immunity grounds. In other words, VicPol fought the investigation all the way to this point, and they are still fighting.

In the words of the High Court, this collaboration with Nicola Gobbo, and the failure to disclose it to the courts, amounted to “atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer.”