Prosecution of Bernard Collaery Dropped at Attorney General's Request
Updated: Jul 17, 2022
Bernard Collaery is the defence lawyer for Witness K, the pseudonym given to a former Australia Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent.
ACT Supreme Court Formally Ends Prosecution of Bernard Collaery
In early July 2022, Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, called on the Commonwealth to end the prosecution against Mr. Collaery:
"It is my view that the prosecution of Mr Collaery should end. I have therefore decided to exercise my power under section 71 of the Judiciary Act not to proceed with the prosecution of Mr Collaery," he said in a statement. In taking this decision, I have had careful regard to our national security, our national interest and the proper administration of justice."
In the wake of Mr. Collaery's prosecution ceasing, there have been calls for other similar ongoing legal cases to be dropped. The Human Rights Law Centre is calling on Mr. Dreyfus to intervene also in the ongoing prosecutions of David McBride, a whistleblower who released materials into alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers, as well as Richard Boyle, who spoke up regarding unethical practises at the Australian Taxation Office. Former attorney general and foreign minister, Gareth Evans, has also called for Witness K's conviction to be reversed and praised the decision to halt the drop the prosecution against Mr. Collaery, stating it showed: "judgement and integrity beyond anything of which the Coalition … has been capable."
Background to Witness K & Bernard Collaery
Witness K was involved in an illegal operation to bug the cabinet room of the East Timor government in 2004 during treaty negotiations with Australia regarding oil and gas in the Timor Sea. Witness K first revealed the bugging operation after learning that former Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, had gone on to work as an adviser for Woodside Petroleum. Woodside Petroleum were working "hand in glove" with the Australian government to reach the optimum deal with East Timor's government and significantly benefited from the outcome of the treaty.
In 2013, Mr. Collaery alleged that ASIO agents raided his Canberra office, seizing both physical and electronic evidence. Proceedings against both both Bernard Collaery and Witness K began in June 2018. The proceedings have been taking place in closed-courts as the prosecution falls under the National Security Information Act 2004.
The pair were accused of conspiring to communicate secret information with the government of Timor-Leste between 2008 and 2013, with Mr. Collaery being additionally accused of sharing information regarding the 2004 bugging operation with the ABC. In August 2019, Mr. Collaery plead not guilty to all charges, with Witness K pleading guilty to breaching the Intelligence Service Act by conspiring to reveal classified information in June of 2021. Witness K received a 3-month suspended sentence.
The delay in charges being brought against Mr. Collaery and Witness K was revealed in an ABC Four Corners report which detailed then-attorney general George Brandis' reluctance to consent to their prosecution. His successor, Christian Porter, began the prosecution of the pair within 6 months of taking the office in 2017. By June 2020, government legal costs related to the prosecution of Mr. Collaery and Witness K had reached more than $2 million.
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