Bruce Lehrmann trial: ACT attorney general backs prosecutor over handling of Brittany Higgins case

<span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The Australian Capital Territory’s top lawmaker has backed prosecutor Shane Drumgold amid ongoing public attacks in the wake of the Bruce Lehrmann trial.

The ACT attorney general, Shane Rattenbury, said he maintained confidence in Drumgold SC, the ACT’s director of public prosecutions.

The end of the Lehrmann prosecution has exposed a rift between police and prosecutors over the handling of the case, and prompted one local law firm, Aulich Law, to publicly call on Drumgold to resign.

The partner of that firm, Ben Aulich, is currently being prosecuted for an alleged money laundering conspiracy. Aulich denies the allegation and has alleged he was the victim of entrapment.

The criticisms appear to have done little to shift the government’s support for Drumgold.

Asked whether he maintained confidence in Drumgold after the public criticisms, Rattenbury issued a one-word statement: “Yes.”

Drumgold has raised his own concerns about misconduct after the case.

Related: ‘Greatly concerned’: prosecutor warns of potentially ‘unlawful’ disclosures about Brittany Higgins

On Saturday, leaked police material suggesting detectives held doubts about Brittany Higgins’ credibility and fears about her mental health were published in the Australian newspaper.

In a statement to the Guardian on Saturday, Drumgold said he was “greatly concerned” by the potentially unlawful sharing of police material about Higgins, including private text messages with her partner, David Sharaz.

“I am greatly concerned that potentially legally protected material may have again been unlawfully distributed,” he told the Guardian. “Given myself and others have already raised concerns about matters that are currently under investigation, it would not be appropriate to comment further whilst investigations are under way.”

Drumgold’s announcement that he would not pursue a retrial on Friday has also prompted a series of fresh legal threats and civil claims.

The Guardian revealed on Tuesday that Lehrmann was in talks with defamation specialists and was contemplating suing the ABC, among other outlets, for carrying a live broadcast of Higgins’ statement outside of court in October. Lehrmann is also reportedly considering suing Channel 10’s The Project and the Australian.

Lehrmann had maintained his innocence to allegations that he raped Higgins, a colleague and fellow political staffer, in the office of the then defence industry minister, Linda Reynolds, in March 2019. He pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

On Wednesday, News Corp reported Lehrmann had engaged Mark O’Brien, a top defamation lawyer, to act on his behalf. O’Brien has previously worked for Ben Roberts-Smith in his defamation case against Fairfax. Lehrmann’s supporters have since confirmed O’Brien had been engaged.

No concerns notices have yet been sent and no decisions have been made on who Lehrmann may sue.

Meanwhile, police are yet to resolve a complaint made by Higgins about their conduct in sending sensitive evidence – including her counselling notes – to Lehrmann’s defence team before the trial. Police said on Tuesday they were still examining the complaint and would not comment further.

Drumgold had also complained about the distribution of the material.

“This issue is quite serious, the counselling notes and other sensitive information of a rape complainant have been unlawfully given to counsel for an alleged rapist,” Drumgold said on 11 October 2021. “I would suggest it should attract greater urgency than it appears to be receiving.”

Meanwhile, Higgins is continuing to press her own civil claims against two former ministers, Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds. Guardian Australia understands that Cash is inclined towards settling any claim that is made.