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The 'lawyer X case' shows how drug laws undermine the justice system

By Vladimir Vinokurov - posted Tuesday, 26 March 2019

An outrageous injustice has been making news recently – the case of Lawyer X, now revealed as Nicola Gobbo, a barrister who breached her clients’ trust and informed on them to the police. Hard as it may be to believe, the entire debacle is a product of our prohibitive drug laws.

Ms Gobbo’s conduct – what we know

Ms Gobbo acted for criminals and socialised among their circles. She befriended drug dealers and powerful members of organised criminal gangs. Then she informed on them, with the encouragement of the Victorian police, whom the High Court has condemned for aiding her breach of the law.


The information Ms Gobbo provided about her criminal connections reportedly led to the conviction of up to 20 criminals, including her former client Tony Mokbel. According to ABC News, the ‘information she passed onto police included how best to limit his movements while on bail and details of credit card transactions, along with his tactics on how he planned to fight cocaine smuggling charges.’  The Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions has now been forced to write to Mokbel and others inform them that their convictions could be appealed, which could lead to their release.

The impact of Ms Gobbo’s behaviour

Ms Gobbo’s behaviour, and that of the police, has dealt a serious blow to the criminal justice system. If people cannot trust lawyers to keep their instructions secret, no one will trust them or seek their advice. The entire legal system depends on people trusting their lawyers to give them legal advice so they can prepare for court. If people can’t turn to lawyers, they won’t know how to defend themselves or prepare their cases, resulting in waste, delay and injustice as innocent people or minor offenders end up in jail.

How our drug laws caused it

This scandal unfolded at least partly because the police had become frustrated with the criminal justice system that seemingly let drug traffickers like Mokbel get away with it for years. But why were drug traffickers like Mr Mokbel getting away with it for so long? Astounding as it may seem, the answer lies in our drug laws.

Unlike laws against theft or murder, when people sell drugs there is usually no victim who complains to the police. There is simply a willing buyer and a willing seller. Drug networks grow and become profitable for this simple reason. As long as no one informs on them to the police, the network grows - unless someone gets caught.


That’s how people like Mokbel or Carl Williams get away with it for so long. Police may have had vague suspicions about their wrongdoings, but vague suspicions aren’t enough to convict people of crimes.

So police have incentives to cut corners to catch drug dealers because they often don’t have witnesses to testify – and therefore a lack of evidence with which to prosecute suspects. It wouldn’t be the first time – there are reportedly 7 other informers who have allegedly disclosed confidential information to police, including at least one other lawyer, Mr Joseph Acquaro. Sadly – but perhaps unsurprisingly - Mr Acquaro was shot dead in 2016. When police cut corners, they put lives at risk.

None of this would be happening if drugs were manufactured safely and legally

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About the Author

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Vladimir Vinokurov

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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