Sophia Tilley with Steven Wyllie, son of Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen. Photo: FacebookFormer Liberal premier Nick Greiner has criticised the corruption watchdog for investigating Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen over allegations of perverting the course of justice, saying it is straying beyond its “core task”.
Mr Greiner, who set up the Independent Commission Against Corruption 25 years ago, said he had a “sneaking view” that if the Sydney silk and deputy senior Crown prosecutor had a lower profile outside legal circles “I doubt this would have happened”.
The ICAC sent shockwaves through the legal fraternity on Thursday when it announced Ms Cunneen and her eldest son Stephen Wyllie would be investigated over allegations they told his girlfriend to fake chest pains to avoid being breath-tested after a car crash in May.
Sophia Tilley, 25, allegedly took the advice of her 26-year old boyfriend and Ms Cunneen, who has denied the allegations. All three are being investigated over whether they were trying to pervert the course of justice, an offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Mr Greiner became one of the ICAC’s first scalps before being cleared by the Supreme Court. He said the commission needed to be “careful that it’s seen to be doing what its core task is and its core task is about official conduct and the integrity of official conduct”.
“It would appear that what is alleged is about personal conduct,” he said.
The ICAC Act sets out the definitions of “corrupt conduct” that may be investigated by the commission.
This includes any conduct of any person – whether or not a public official – that adversely affects, or that could adversely affect, the exercise of official functions by a public official, “which could involve … perverting the course of justice”.
Mr Greiner agreed this could be the legislative “peg” in the Cunneen investigation, codenamed Operation Hale, but said “it seems to be stretching it”.
“I think it’s perfectly obvious that the ICAC is not meant to be another layer of police. Otherwise you end up with almost parallel police forces,” he said.
Mr Greiner was echoing comments by Professor Gary Sturgess, one of the architects of the ICAC and the former head of the cabinet office in the Greiner government.
Opposition Leader John Robertson said on Friday he had “every confidence in ICAC’s ability to do its job”.
Asked if he shared the views of Professor Sturgess, he said: “I do wonder whether there aren’t bigger fish to fry for ICAC than this particular matter but in the end I’m going to leave … those judgement calls to the people at ICAC.
“They’re charged to act independently, they’ve demonstrated to date they are very effective at what they do and no doubt it may well turn out as this matter is investigated it will become more obvious as to why ICAC has chosen to investigate.”
A spokeswoman for the ICAC said the commission was “not commenting on Operation Hale” beyond the information released on Thursday. Public hearings are due to start on Monday, November 10, and run for three days.
Premier Mike Baird’s office said he had “no further comment to make on ICAC”.
with Sean Nicholls