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Robyn Tampoe, Schapelle Corby’s solicitor

July 6th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Update, 10 June 2009: Mr Tampoe has been struck off the roll of solicitors.

Update, 7 July 2008: Watch the video of Tampoe slagging off his client here.

Original post: Lawyers and their regulators should care about the Corby case, because at the relevant time, a lot of people loved Schapelle and Schapelle does not now much like her lawyers. One of them has hit back, calling the Corbys “the biggest pile of trash I have ever come across in my life”. People will think this is normal, or at least the tip of the iceberg. And much confusion seems to be going around about Mr Tampoe’s fabrication of a defence for Corby. For giving this interview, and saying this, I condemn Mr Tampoe, who is no longer a solicitor, with all my fibre. What I question below is whether the media have got their reportage of his claim to have completely fabricated the defence right — if he means what I imagine he means, I say — so what? Whether or not the media have got it right, I reckon his comments might well harm his former client. They could have been personally deeply hurtful, they could affect her treatment in jail, they could affect any claim for clemency she might in the future make, and they could affect the result of the prisoner exchange treaty negotiations underway between the Australian and Indonesian governments, or the speed with which they progress.

I watched the Channel 9 special a few weeks ago promising the hidden truth on the Corby saga. A working class family cracking under the most extraordinary pressure was fairly ugly, as edited by Channel 9, but the only trash on show was Channel 9. What a disgraceful hatchet job and obvious breach of trust.

Mr Tampoe said he invented Corby’s defence that the marijuana was placed in her bag by a corrupt Australian baggage handler, saying “I gave you a defence. I’ll take it away. As fast as I gave it, I’ll take it away”. “Three weeks to put a defence together; I put a defence together,” he said. “Baggage handlers didn’t put drugs in the bag. [They had] nothing to do with it, but now she [Corby] believes it. … Who’ll fucking believe it, it is not true. That is why you can’t … find direct evidence relating to baggage handlers – because they didn’t do it.”

He is reportedly being investigated by Queensland’s Legal Services Commissioner, but I doubt it’s for ‘fabricating a defence’. Rather, it must be for breach of solicitor-client confidentiality. And it is hard to imagine that there has been a more egregious case in Australia’s history. But I’d like to know in what sense Tampoe fabricated a defence. The question may be complicated as the Indonesian criminal law may differ relevantly from ours. Perhaps he put forward the defence as a positive assertion. But in our system, I imagine Tampoe would have presented the defence like this:

You should not convict this woman unless there is no reasonable doubt that she knew the drugs were in the bag at the relevant moment. Though they were in her possession when they were found, she had been separated from the boogie board bag since she put it on the plane in Brisbane. On the same day as she left Sydney, where the plane stopped en route to Denpassar, a large shipment of cocaine was shipped out of the airport by a drug ring involving corrupt baggage handlers. And a man awaiting trial who must be presumed innocent in the meantime overheard a conversation in prison between two men and alleged that one of them planted the marijuana in Corby’s boogie board bag in Brisbane with the intention of having another person remove it in Sydney, and that there had been a mix up. There are at least two explanations for Corby being in possession of the dope at the airport: it was put there by corrupt baggage handlers in an interstate dope transfer gone wrong, or Schapelle planned to traffic it. The first is not so implausible as not to constitute a reasonable doubt, so Corby should not be convicted.

The witness, John Ford, gave viva voce evidence at Corby’s trial. A baggage handler also gave evidence, I think. Tampoe did not say he connived at the giving of evidence he knew to be false (if he did, he should be thrown in jail). What he said was that he heard something on the news about baggage handlers, thought — Eureka! There’s a defence!’, and ran with it as a reasonable doubt generator. If so, what’s the problem? Perhaps this is what the Queensland Law Society President, Megan Mahon, meant when she came luke-warmly to the defence of Mr Tampoe, saying:

“There are lots of tactics – as most people accept – in litigation, particularly in criminal defence litigation.”

“At the end of the day we have a person who, on national television, has said that… the entire defence was fabricated by him.”

“Whether or not that turns out to be true and whether it was perhaps maybe a bit of media grandstanding and a bit more wise in afterthought, is irrelevant.”

“It has been said on national television and it is unfortunate if that in any way suggests that that is an ordinary course of practice for the solicitors of Queensland, because it certainly is not.”

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Tags: "disgraceful and dishonourable" · advertising · Client Legal Privilege · duties of confidentiality · duties regarding witnesses · duty to court · Ethics · Fiduciary duties · litigation ethics · Misconduct