Barrister offers to finish probe

by Chris Griffith
Published 27 Oct 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


I N HOLLYWOOD, they would dub the Carruthers Inquiry "a judicial flat liner".

Just six day ago, Mr Carruthers told a packed media conference his inquiry was fatally compromised, its perception of independence irretrievably lost, and his own position was untenable.

"My ability to conclude this inquiry has gone and cannot be restored," he said.

But having lingered a week in legal purgatory, the inquiry's pulse appears to be registering again on the state's political electrocardiogram.

Next week State Parliament will debate Opposition Leader Peter Beattie's "Carruthers Inquiry Enabling Bill", which if passed with Independent Liz Cunningham's support, will herald the chided commissioner's return.

Cedric Hampson, the right-hand man to departed inquiry chief Kenneth Carruthers, yesterday offered to complete the Carruthers inquiry reports himself, should his commissioner not return to Queensland.

Speaking with The Sunday Mail yesterday, Mr Hampson described what it felt like to work seven months on an unfinished inquiry.

And he took the opportunity to reply to Premier Rob Borbidge's barb yesterday that a meeting between Mr Carruthers' lawyers and the Opposition last week amounted to "a secret deal" and had compromised the Carruthers Inquiry.

For the last seven months, Mr Hampson has been the counsel assisting the Carruthers Inquiry, the barrister who represents the inquiry team and argues its case before Mr Carruthers' at public hearings.

The thick-set barrister with the characteristic white-brimmed hat is regarded as the state's most senior Queen's Counsel.

An avid art lover, Mr Hampson went to school at St Joseph's College, Brisbane, and studied law at the University of Queensland.

He studied at Oxford University after being named Queensland's Rhodes Scholar for 1955, he was admitted to the Bar in 1957, and was president of the Queensland Bar Association from 1978 to 1981.

As counsel assisting Mr Carruthers, Mr Hampson has faced a massive paradox.

On the one hand, he publicly cans the scope of Queensland's bribery laws.

Yet at the same time he has singled out Police Minister Russell Cooper, Police Union president Gary Wilkinson, and Labor State Secretary Mike Kaiser as possibly being recommended for charges under the same laws he has criticised.

Mr Hampson has a long and distinguished career as counsel assisting Justice Donald Stewart's Mr Asia drug inquiry, the Age tapes, the Williams Royal Commission, Sir John Nimmo's inquiry on the status of Norfolk Island, and commissions on oil drilling in the Greate Barrier Reef.

He also represented disgraced commissioner Sir Terence Lewis at the Fitzgerald inquiry.

Yesterday he offered to complete the Carruthers Inquiry report himself if Mr Carruthers did not return.

He said he was concerned that the two barristers the CJC appointed last week to replace Mr Carruthers - Bob Gotterson, QC, and Brendan Butler, SC, would be grossly disadvantaged assessing the inquiry's evidence from cold - without having attended the public hearings.

"In many cases there's a lot to be seen in the way a witness presents his evidence. If he's very indecisive, or if there's a problem with his attitude, you can tell."

On Thursday, CJC chairman Frank Clair announced that Mr Gotterson and Mr Butler would assess only whether inquiry inquiry witnesses should the charged or face misconduct tribunal.

The narrow scope of this role worries Mr Hampson, who says the bribery laws must be changed. He said Mr Gotterson and Mr Butler would find it difficult to recommend changes to the bribery laws which were to be addressed in a second report by the Carruthers Inquiry.

He believes the state's wide-sweeping bribery law should not trap political deals forged before elections unless explicit corruption was involved.

"It's awefully wide and goes far beyond the old definition of bribery where something is done corruptly to actually get you to change your vote.

"If I give a benefit for somebody to change his support for a party or a candidate at an election, that's an offence.

"That's an extremely wide concept, because it doesn't say I have to corruptly give a benefit."

He said the CJC's Research Division could be charged with reviewing the bribery laws if no one else did.

In the meantime, Mr Hampson yesterday defended Mr Carruthers from a broadside attack delivered late on Friday by Mr Borbidge.

The premier had claimed a meeting between Mr Carruthers' lawyers and the State Opposition late last week had amounted to "a secret deal" a la Mundingburra, and had further compromised the Carruthers Inquiry.

The meeting led to the Opposition tabling a Bill which would prevent the CJC Connolly-Ryan commission from examining Carruthers Inquiry material "during the deliberations of the Carruthers Inquiry".

The secret meeting resulted led to Mr Clair issuing a statement on Friday which said that "I have been informed by Mr Carruthers' solicitor that, had this Bill been passed, Mr Carruthers would have withdrawn his resignation immediately".

Mr Hampson said he had no problem with Mr Carruthers' lawyers having met the Opposition.

"Supposing the Premier had been warned that Carruthers was going to resign next week, and he went back to Sydney for the weekend, would there be anything improper with the Premier getting in touch with Carruthers' lawyers in Brisbane? No."

"Would there be anything improper about asking him what's the degree of comfort he wants so he won't resign, completes his report, and saves public money?

"Turn it around the other way, it's a crusade in the public interest to try to get the thing right and save a lot of money."

It is an argument that is likely to attract large public support, given that the government estimates the Carruthers Inquiry so far has cost taxpayers $3.5 million.

"It's a typical politician's call. I don't think there's anything improper in either side doing it."

On the other hand, Mr Hampson has more difficulty rationalising how Mr Carruthers can one day pronounce his inquiry "fatally compromised" and "irretrievably lost", yet now believe he could return and complete his reports.

Mr Hampson said Mr Carruthers did believe his inquiry was fatally flawed - at least at the time he made his statement.

"I suppose you've got to construe words as how people use them on the assumption that things would continue the way they continued."

However could Mr Carruthers simply have been playing a clever game of wiley political brinksmanship, resigning yet all the time knowing there would be pleas for his return.

"To suggest he did this deliberately to bring this about? No!

"He's politically nieve I would say. He's just an old fashioned judge who thinks his integrity is beyond question.

"It's not a political masterstroke. He'd be the last to think of it, he's completely unpolitical.

"Most judges are. They see all the grime of society coming through the court, but they don't see how politicians behave."

Mr Hampson said that the Carruthers Inquiry's documents would be available for later scrutiny anyway.

"Everybody knows that at a royal commission, all the transcripts and exhibits and the whole lot are safeguarded and archived.

"But what they talk about is his notes, memorandums he is writing to himself."

In his statement, Mr Carruthers noted he had returned all the inquiry's documents to the CJC, except for his personal notebooks which were handed to his solicitor.

This act begs the question as to what exactly what thoughts Mr Carruthers put pen to paper about.

Mr Hampson said he did not feel frustrated by the seven-month inquiry, but it was "a wasted one".

"You have to give away work to do this work, and if no benefit comes out of it, the people are left with unresolved accusations.

"Barristers don't get frustrated, well they're not supposed to.

"You're not doing your job if you're frustrated. A criminal barrister would not go and shoot himself."