THE HON. LIONEL MURPHY QC
30 August 1922 - 21 October 1986
A Short Biographical Note
Lionel Murphy is best known as a Justice of the High Court of Australia for more than eleven years. Initially, during the late 1970s, Murphy was often dissenting in his opinions, whether on issues of tax avoidance or the constitutionality of funding to private schools. He was also in the minority on a number of high profile criminal cases, perhaps most notably the Lindy Chamberlain appeal. Murphy's view was that there had been a miscarriage of justice and that she should be immediately released (of course Mrs Chamberlain had to wait some years before a Royal Commissioner drew the same conclusions).
Murphy was never afraid to be outspoken on important issues of the day whether frome the bench or the lecturn. This site provides for the first time a comprehensive archive of Lionel Murphy's speeches
Lionel Murphy was born in the Sydney suburb of Kensington in 1922. Both parents were Murphys, his mother Lily Murphy and his father William Murphy immigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s, his father from Tipperary. His father had been a publican in Sydney for many years but by 1922 gave that away to concentrate on property development.
Murphy attended Kensington Public School and was dux of the School in 1935. In 1936 he began at Sydney Boysí High where he was a keen athlete, joining the rugby team and winning many foot races. He matriculated in 1941 with A levels in English, Mathematics and Chemistry and B levels in Physics and French. He completed a degree in Science at Sydney University graduating with Honours in Organic Chemistry in 1945. He then enrolled in Law and after only two years of the four year course sat the bar examination and was admitted to practice at the NSW bar on 7 May 1947.
Murphy quickly came to prominence at the NSW industrial bar taking silk in 1959. He appeared many times for the Australian Workers Union in a series of cases which finally saw the left-wing leadership cement its position against a ferocious campaign from embittered anti-communist forces within the Labor Party. This legal wrangling took place on the backdrop of the cold war anti-communist purges and the devastating split within the ALP between ëgrouperí and ëanti-grouperí members.
In 1960 Murphy secured a winnable place on the NSW ALP Senate ticket and he entered the Commonwealth Parliament. But his position with in the ALP was by no means secure. The NSW party at that time was tightly controlled by the right wing faction and Murphy, formally unaligned but always seen as left wing, was under constant attack. Even as a minister in 1973 he faced an unsuccessful appeal to have his ALP membership revoked.
Within the parliament Murphy had great success culminating in his appointment as Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise in the Whitlam Government December 1972 - February 1975. Murphy had a formidable legislative program but will remain best known for his ground-breaking reforms with the introduction of Legal Aid, anti-discrimation law and the Family Law Act. Other major developments under Attorney-General Murphy included: Trade Practices Act, Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act, Federal Court Of Australia Act, Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act , Racial Discrimination Act, The Australian Law Reform Commission, Funding For Community Legal Services, The Australian Legal Aid Office, Commonwealth Ombudsman, Open Government Policy, Committee On Computerization Of Legal Data, Australian Institute Of Criminology, Relaxation Of Censorship Laws, Death Penalty Abolition Act, Ministerial Control Of Asio, Disclosure Of Number Of Asio Telephone Taps, France Taken To The International Court Over Atomic Testing In The Pacific, Introduction Of A Human Rights Bill, Establishment Of An Environmental Law Group, Electoral Reform, Prices Justification Tribunal, National Companies And Securities Legislation, Abolition Of Privy Council Appeals.
He was appointed to the High Court of Australia by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 14 February 1975 where he remained until his untimely death in October 1986.