Lionel Murphy papers: the allegations the inquiry wanted answering
A 1986 parliamentary commission of inquiry inquiring into Justice Lionel Murphy’s conduct identified 15 allegations it believed worth investigating. They are described here. Of those 15, Murphy was sent 14 for a response. The commission investigated 41 allegations in total but did not make findings as the commission was wound up due to Murphy’s terminal illness. The allegations were published by parliament for the first time on Thursday.
That in December 1979 Murphy, then a high court judge, spoke to Donald Thomas who was a detective chief inspector of the commonwealth police in charge of the criminal investigation branch regarding a conspiracy prosecution relating to social security. Murphy extended an invitation to Thomas to meet Don Grimes, a Labor senator, who had strongly criticised the conduct of the case in parliament. He also then spoke to Thomas about the impeding formation of the Australian federal police and said “we need someone inside to tell us what is going on,” conveying to Thomas that the judge sought covert information from him. He also suggested that the judge would arrange for Thomas to get rank of assistant commissioner.
That in April 1980 and July 1981 Murphy had agreed with his close friend solicitor Morgan Ryan and others to make inquiries with a view to determining whether two AFP officers could be bribed or otherwise influenced. In a conversation between the judge and Ryan, Ryan asked: “Have you been able to find out about those two fellows who are doing the investigation?” Murphy replied in substance that the answer was: “Definitely no, they were both straight.”
That in November 1975 Danny Sankey had taken a private prosecution against Murphy and others for conspiracy. The judge is alleged to have agreed with Ryan and Abe Saffron that Saffron would arrange an approach to Sankey in order to persuade him to drop the prosecutions. It was alleged that Murphy knew, because Saffron was a well-known crime figure, that this would amount to an attempt to intimidate the witness.
That Murphy had given evidence during his trial in 1985 which had the effect of suggesting to the jury that chief magistrate Clarrie Briese had invented allegations about him. But the judge, through his counsel, had previously expressly disavowed that he would put an allegation of fabrication. This deprived Briese of the right of rebuttal or the ability to support his credibility, and was a serious breach of legal ethics.
That Murphy had given Clarrie Briese’s diaries to Pamela Whitty so they could be photocopied when he knew the judge in the case had ordered that they should be made available only to the legal advisers in the case. This allegation was not put to Murphy due to the wind up of the commission.
That in June 1985 during his trial before Justice Cantor, Murphy had given false testimony over his dealings with Justice Jim McClelland. Murphy told the court he had only approached McClelland after McClelland had spoken to Chief Judge Staunton, whereas the commission alleged he had approached McClelland earlier, for the purpose of getting McClelland to make an approach to the chief judge on behalf of Morgan Ryan.
That Murphy, while a judge, had approached then New South Wales premier Neville Wranto put Wadim Jegarow on the Ethnic Affairs commission.
That in March 1979 Murphy had urged or encouraged Ryan to cause harm to Sankey’s counsel, David Rofe.
That in March 1980 Murphy assisted Ryan in obtaining a meeting with Milton Morris, then a member of the NSW parliament. The purpose of the meeting was to threaten Morris with exposure over his involvement in an alleged tax-evasion scheme, so that Morris would intercede with the then opposition leader and get him to back off attacks on Ryan in Parliament over a his role in the Cessna-Milner drug case.
That Murphy in April 1980 had discussed with Ryan’s wife, Dorothy, a strategy to get a government member in the NSW parliament to vouch for Ryan and say that an inquiry had had Ryan “come up smelling like roses”. In fact no inquiry had been conducted, and the judge knew that Ryan had not been exonerated in relation to the immigration conspiracy. The commission alleged this amounted to misbehaviour because it involved making false statements.
That in January 1980 Murphy had tried to influence the award of a NSW government contract to remodel Central railway station, so it would go to interests associated with Abe Saffron. The commission said at the time Murphy knew Saffron was a person of ill-repute but had tried to assist him regardless.
That Murphy had agreed with Ryan he would make representations to then Wran, on behalf of a company associated with Abe Saffron in order to obtain a lease over Luna Park.
That Murphy had tried in April 1982 to get the chief judge of the district court to schedule an early trial for Morgan Ryan over the immigration charges.
That Murphy had in January 1982 had conversations with chief magistrate Clarrie Briese about the so called “Greek conspiracy case” which was being heard at the time. He described it as one of the greatest scandals in legal history and said it was “oppressive that 180 people could be charged with a single conspiracy.” He went on to say the magistrate hearing it would be a hero in the community if he dismissed it.
That Murphy deliberately understated and gave false evidence about the frequency of his contacts and the nature of his relationship with Ryan during his 1985 trial.
Lionel Murphy, left, with jockey Athol Mulley, Eric Miller QC and Morgan Ryan, after charges against Mulley had been dismissed.