Lawyer X Melbourne gangland
Tony Mokbel, one of the criminals affected by the Lawyer X scandal (Image: AAP: Julian Smith)

When news of the Melbourne gangland High Court case hit the news last week, someone, on deep background, commented that it would be like a bomb going off. “A nuclear bomb,” they added.

They weren’t wrong. The case, which has been wending its way through the court system for years, has revealed that for four years, from 2005 to 2009, a leading Melbourne criminal barrister representing a slew of Melbourne gangland figures, was also acting as a police informant.

A registered police informant. Informer 3838. In subsequent IBAC hearings she became known as “Lawyer X”. In a long letter of hers to the police, published in The Age, she claims to have spoken to her police handlers every day for four years, generating 5500 Information Reports.

She claims to have provided evidence that was essential to the convictions of the Mokbels, Rob Karam and others associated with vast ecstasy importing; Faruk Orman, convicted of murdering hitman Victor Peirce, and more. Others say that her claims are vastly overstated; that her information wasn’t essential.

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Informer 3838’s name is still unable to be published for legal reasons, though everyone in Melbourne even tangentially connected with the law, media etc, knows who she is. Anyone using the information in her published letter to The Age — such as her having a stroke in 2004 — can work out who she is. And of course the criminals inside and outside of prison sure as hell know who she is. So why isn’t her name circulating?

Lawyer X is the daughter of a distinguished Melbourne family — ultra-establishment — in both law and government. Her extraordinary life shows how entwined the legal profession and Melbourne gangland became, as the wars intensified and cases spent years going through the courts.

The Melbourne gangland wars of 2001-2009 were the final stage of a long process of the decomposition of organised crime that began in the 1980s. The small-time empires were taken over by the big money from new drugs. Gangsters’ kids wanted bigger action. A series of police shootings in the ’80s conveniently removed some people, not others. Then in the ’90s, the creation of Crown casino gave crims their own money-laundromat, cash-chips-cash.

Gangland became chic. Barristers, hitherto having some separation from their clients, got sucked into the glamour. The worlds commingled in Carlton; Lygon Street being a sort of open-air headquarters.

Lawyer X/Informer 3838 came up through all of that. Part of the Melbourne uni college establishment, deep in student politics and media, she had a brush with the law even before she got her degree as her sharehouse was raided for dealing speed. 

She was not prosecuted or convicted, became a lawyer, and quickly went to the bar. She was in the gangland stuff right from the start, hanging out with her clients, as cops tried to hold murderers on lesser charges, meaning an almost continuous relationship with their lawyers. Barrister Andrew Fraser went to prison for a not-small stretch for smuggling cocaine. Barrister Zarah Garde-Wilson had a relationship with her client Lewis Caine. Lawyers ended up dead in Brunswick gutters.

Lawyer X/Informer 3838 says she started talking informally to police from 2004, after finding herself a witness to the discussion of crimes in commission. Lawyers are allowed to break confidentiality to report such, of course. But they’re also meant to finish relations with the client in question. The police transitioned her to full informer status. She stayed on, deep in gangland, as a lawyer of choice, for another four years. All of this, as the High Court noted, is “unprecedented”.

What were the police, and their lawyers, thinking? Presumably, that they could chop the informer process up ultra-fine, and avoid actual perversion of the course of justice. This seems an absurd judgement, but it was an absurd time. The pressure to wind up the gangland wars was immense. Lawyer X says she was moved by “the frustration” of being aware of serious offences “all being committed without any serious inroads being made by police”.

By her own account she is now out of the profession, friendless, depressed, anxious and traumatised. The $3 million awarded in compensation may help with some of that. But now of course the whole edifice built on her conduct may come down, and some of her former clients/informees may be getting out. She has been advised to go into witness protection. She has refused to do so.

What a story. What a story. What a film/series it will make. That will get Lawyer X a bit more cash she will undoubtably need. If it does, she should probably put it in a couple of trusts, and get her affairs in order.