Lawyers scrap calling clients over phone tapping fears

TOP criminal lawyers fear "illegal" phone taps are compromising conversations with high-profile clients and say they only talk face-to-face nowadays.

As fallout continued yesterday from revelations Victoria Police deployed a Melbourne gangland lawyer as an informant against her own clients, Gold Coast lawyers raised concerns their phones were increasingly being tapped by law enforcement in Queensland.

A Royal Commission is scheduled next year in Melbourne to examine police use of so-called Lawyer X to inform on drug trade bigwigs, with convictions of Tony Mokbel and Pasquale "Pat'' Barbaro expected to be challenged.

Brisbane Supreme Court Lawyer Campbell MacCallum.
Brisbane Supreme Court Lawyer Campbell MacCallum.

Top Gold Coast defence lawyers Campbell MacCallum and Jason Murakami both say they now never discuss substantive matters or instructions over the phone with accused clients.

Mr MacCallum, of Moloney MacCallum Abdelshahied, is representing Harley Barbaro in the first challenge to Queensland anti-consorting laws and said he was wary about what he discussed with clients via mobile phone.

Jason Murakami leaves the Magistrates Court in Brisbane.
Jason Murakami leaves the Magistrates Court in Brisbane.

"Mr Barbaro and I do not, and nor would I with any of my clients, receive instructions over the phone. That would be blatant negligence and not acting in the best interests of the client.

"That's not paranoia, that's being intelligent," he said.

"I've no doubt any criminal lawyer representing serious or high-profile clients should assume their phone calls are illegally being listened into and no one will ever be the wiser. The intel would be priceless."

Harley Barbaro (left) and Gold Coast defence lawyer Campbell MacCallum PICTURE: Instagram of Campbell MacCallum
Harley Barbaro (left) and Gold Coast defence lawyer Campbell MacCallum PICTURE: Instagram of Campbell MacCallum

Asked about the fears, a Queensland Police Service spokesman said: "A vast array of investigative strategies is used by QPS in the investigation of serious and organised crime.

"Defence lawyers should be well aware there are specific legislative protections for privileged conversations."

Mr MacCallum said he had been subject to the "odd snide remark" from police asking "how'd your long conversation go with so and so?".

"They have the ability to (phone tap) without permission but just can't use it as evidence. But it puts them in a position to threaten a client and find out information that can only have come from a privileged lawyer-client conversation," he said.

Mr Murakami said police or anti-corruption bodies could "easily" order a crime investigation.

"As soon as that happens they can listen to phones and do all sorts. It is prudent for any defence lawyer to only have face-to-face conferences because of widespread use of phone tapping," he said.

 

'DANGEROUS METHODOLOGY'

A PAIR of Gold Coast defence lawyers are concerned at what they say is increasing reliance by police on compromised informants to get convictions.

Jason Murakami and Campbell MacCallum, commenting on the Lawyex X scandal in Melbourne, say it creates a fertile environment for unsafe convictions.

Mr Murakami, a co-founder of Griffith University's Innonence Project for those wrongly convicted, said: "Old coppers used to investigate, gather evidence, issue a charge and go through the process. The new way of investigation is find someone associated, put pressure on them saying 'We're aware you've done X Y Z so unless you give us what we want we are going to charge and prosecute you'. It's dangerous methodology."



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