Brett Sutton in hotel quarantine firing line, calls for lawyers to be investigated

Pressure is mounting on the state’s top health official to explain why he instructed lawyers to withhold a key email from the hotel quarantine inquiry.

It comes after Victoria’s shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue asked the state’s legal watchdog, Fiona McLeay, to urgently investigate the lawyers involved in the decision not to hand over emails relating to chief health officer Brett Sutton’s involvement in the hotel quarantine program to the Board of Inquiry.

In his letter, seen by NCA NewsWire, Mr O’Donohue alleged the conduct of Mr Sutton’s solicitors and in-house Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) lawyers may have breached the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015.

He said the conduct allegedly misled the courts or boards of inquiry and breached the requirement for solicitors to act honestly, not bring the profession into disrepute and not make final submissions contrary to factual evidence.

“The alleged potential breach of professional legal conduct rules poses the question whether such practices have been prevalent in the code of other Victorian government departments or key witness within government, influencing further evidence submitted, or not submitted, to the inquiry,” Mr O’Donohue wrote.

It comes after Professor Sutton was given seven days to provide a statement to the hotel quarantine inquiry to explain conflicting evidence after it was revealed he instructed his lawyers to withhold a key email.

Senior counsel assisting Tony Neal QC told an extraordinary sitting of the inquiry board on Tuesday that an affidavit would be served on Professor Sutton.

It related to an email chain to health department officials in March advising private security had been contracted to guard returned travellers in hotels in Victoria.

Professor Sutton acknowledged receipt of the email.

However, when Professor Sutton appeared at the inquiry, he said he first found out about private security being used after the virus outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston Hotel in late May.

Professor Sutton has stood by his testimony.

The chief health officer was absent at Friday’s coronavirus media briefing – the fourth consecutive day – as Premier Daniel Andrews and DHHS testing commander Jeroen Weinmar fronted the media instead.

When questioned about Professor Sutton’s absence, the Premier said Professor Sutton was “doing all sorts of work … making sure we are ready to make announces about restrictions on Sunday”.

“I know he will be working hard. We are all working hard to be ready to make the announcements on Sunday and I will predict, I can’t be certain, but I will predict he will be here tomorrow.

“His work involves many things. I’m pretty sure he will be here tomorrow and you can ask him any questions them.”

Law firm MinterEllison was contacted for comment.

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