14 March 2019
It has come to light what Australia has known as “Lawyer X” or Informant 3838 is lawyer Nicola Gobbo. She is the niece of a former Victorian Governor, Sir James Gobbo. Gobbo was first signed as a police informant in 1995 when she was in the final year of her law degree at the University of Melbourne. She quickly built a career and a high public profile defending gangland figures, including Carl Williams and Tony Mokbel. She was not just an informant but what she did was undercover work for the police. Her activities included wearing police bugging device to record a conversation with suspects. She had snitched on some of Australia’s most notorious drug lords while she was representing them in the 1990s and 2000s. She claims her actions helped convict nearly 400 criminals. She also violated their right to confidentiality and possibly, their chances of a fair trial.
Suppression orders protecting the 46-year-old’s identity were obtained by the police saying that her life and that of her family would be at risk if her identity were to be published. Victoria Police have spent more than $4m in legal fees trying to protect her identity. The High Court of Australia admitted that the risk to Gobbo’s life was real but it ruled on February 21 that five years’ worth of suppression orders preventing the publication of Gobbo’s identity would be lifted today because the “public interest in preserving Lawyer X’s anonymity must be subordinated to the integrity of the criminal justice system”. The judge said that faith in the courts was more important than her personal safety. She had committed “fundamental and appalling breaches” of her duties as a barrister and debased fundamental principles of the criminal justice system. The High Court also described police’s use of the lawyer as informant is a “reprehensible conduct” which involved sanctioning “atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer”.
Her first brush with the law was when Gobbo and her Carlton housemates were busted with 1.4 kilograms of amphetamine worth $82,000 and 350 grams of cannabis. Gobbo was then a third-year law student. She got off with a good behaviour bond and escaped a criminal conviction that would have ended her legal career before it began. News.com.au reported.
Referring to her becoming a police informant, “What led me to do that was my frustration with the way in which certain criminals (Carl Williams) were seeking to control what suspects and witnesses could and could not do or say to police via solicitors,” Gobbo said. Carl Anthony Williams was an Australian convicted murderer and drug trafficker from Melbourne, Victoria. He was the central figure in the Melbourne gangland killings as well as its final victim. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Williams was beaten to death with the stem of an exercise bike by another inmate, Matthew Charles Johnson. The Age reported.
Ms Gobbo continues to deny she has done anything wrong. ‘I maintain … that anything told to me or said in my presence about crimes being planned or committed cannot ever fall under the protection of legal professional privilege by a client,’ she told police in 2015.
‘Most significantly, I did not approach the police because I had committed any crime for which I required some kind of “get out of jail free card”, as is most often the reason people choose to assist police.’ Dailymail.co.uk reported.
Her role as a Victoria Police informant sparked a royal commission which will look into the management of informants. The commission will examine, among other things, how Gobbo came to be paid $2.8 million to spill secrets. On its first day of hearing, the commission heard that there were seven possible police informers, as well as 3838 or Lawyer X (Nicola Gobbo), who may have breached their legal professional privilege. A court clerk, a legal secretary, a legal adviser and a gunned-down Mafia lawyer are among the seven people who have been referred to the Royal Commission into Management of Police Informants in addition to Informer 3838. The Age reported.
“We are calling for submissions from individuals who were legally represented by [Gobbo] between 1995 and 2009 and who were found guilty or convicted, and sentenced,” the commissioner, Margaret McMurdo, said. ‘The Commission is now better placed to ascertain the full extent of Nicola Gobbo’s conduct as a police informer between 1995 and 2009 and the identities of the persons potentially affected,’ Ms McMurdo said in a statement. The Guardian reported.
Her uncle, former governor and retired supreme court judge Sir James Gobbo, released a statement to The Age distancing himself and his family from her actions, saying they have been “disturbed by the revelations” and that “no members of our immediate family have seen or spoken to Nicola in many years and have no knowledge of the matters to be investigated or her actions.” The Guardian reported.