Law was that there was one law for the ordinary citizens and
general public and that there was another law for Murphy and
his friends. A private select network that was entitled to
receive favours and little bendings, accommodations and variations
of the law in their favour, simply because they were friends
of Murphy and benefited from Murphys Law. This is the
true story of Mr Justice Lionel Murphy, a former parliamentarian
and federal Attorney-General of the then-ruling Australian
Labour Party. He had been appointed to the highest court in
the land in Australia and was particularly popular in New
South Wales and its capital Sydney.
He was riding high on the hog and had many rich and powerful
friends, who from time to time needed rich and powerful favours
in respect of matters before the Courts and under Murphys
Law, this was often achieved by a whisper in the right ear
at the right time and the matter would be taken care of discreetly
and efficiently, and everyone would be happy and the public
would be none the wiser. This was of course until Murphy whispered
into the wrong ear.
In this world of the old boy network where it is almost implicitly
accepted as a given that, you scratch my back and Ill
scratch yours and neither of us will tell and all will
be well, it is often difficult to buck such strong and powerful
traditions, and almost impossible to stand up against such
systems of institutionalised glad-handing and power-brokering
on behalf of the rich, famous or popular. It often takes a
special kind of character with nerves of steel and immense
strength of conviction to withstand the torrent of abuse and
public vilification that often comes with standing up for
what is right and what is truth.
Its painful to be relentlessly attacked in newspaper
and television headlines by a State Premier and a famous Judge
of the highest Court in the land, even when you know the truth
is on your side and most men would crumble under the weight
of that pressure. But not all, for sometimes history throws
up an individual or two, who against all odds, stand their
ground for what is truth and right, and who in the face of
the sheer madness and insanity of public opinion and public
pressure, quietly stand firm, unyielding and unbending and
refusing to budge from a stand of principle and integrity.
Enter one such man in the form of Clarence (Clarrie) Briese
who was then the Chief Magistrate of New South Wales in the
early 1980s and who would not have expected to be in such
a legal/ethical storm given his mild manner and simple country-boy
But maybe, it is that very honesty and simplicity of his upbringing,
which placed him at the centre of the maelstrom which was
about to descend upon his life. He held simple honest virtues
and always felt that truth matters, and no-one, regardless
of status, should be able to get away with corrupting and
distorting the law.
The so-called Murphy affair exploded in the early
1980s across Australia, but especially in Sydney, capital
of its most populous state, New South Wales. At that time,
there was a widespread political corruption rampant at very
high levels, including the police and judiciary and on the
sworn evidence given by Clarrie Briese, it seemed clear that
the corruption had reached to the highest court. In a 1982
phone call to Briese, Mr Justice Murphy had made oblique hints
that Briese should arrange the fixing of a court
case which was against a Sydney lawyer, Morgan Ryan, whom
Murphy referred to as my little mate.
There were also other veiled and oblique hints and references
given to Clarrie all in an attempt for him to fix this and
other cases, but Clarrie still did not want to fully believe
the worst about the Honourable Justice Lionel Murphy. Not,
at least, until The Age newspaper published extracts from
a series of phone conversations involving Murphy and other
Reading the full transcript, Clarrie said, It was clear
to me that there was in fact a substantial network of corruption
at work, which crystallised my previous fears and unease.
He then came forward with his testimony of what had taken
place. But whistle-blowing has its pricea relentless
and unprecedented barrage of public attacks on Clarries
character from influential quarters.
But his opponents had underestimated their church-going nemesis.
Once set on his path, Clarrie was determined to stand firm
regarding what he knew had been said to him. His reputation
for unbending, unselfish integrity made it hard for anyone
to think of a motive for him risking everything in this way.
Some suggested it was political bias against Murphys
Labour Party, but, he says, I was well known for sympathy
to the Labour side at the time.
Clarrie Brieses fellow magistrates rose in public support
for his integrity. Judges and law societies publicly deplored
the notion that there might be retribution against him for
giving evidence. Clarrie was actually already known to support
measures he believed would help to reduce corruption in the
One of these was ensuring that the States magistrates
should be independent of government, like judges of higher
courts already were. He had also proposed they be accountable
to an independent commission. The media spotlight slowly begin
to highlight the errors and failings of Clarries attackers.
Despite assembling one of the finest legal defence teams in
the history of Australia, Mr Justice Lionel Murphy was convicted
and sentenced to prison in 1985, but died before having to
face any formal consequences of his actions. Doubtless not
all the corrupt players were made to face justice but everyone
agrees that the whole affair led to massive and beneficial
reforms of law and government in New South Wales and in Australia
generally. Clarrie Briese emerged with a deserved reputation
as a corruption fighter of unbending integrity. In 2002 he
was awarded one of his countrys highest civic honours,
Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).
Asked if corruption is no longer a problem in NSW, Clarrie
says, Far from it. But the reforms mean we have better
ways of identifying it and dealing with it. We have to be
vigilant; where people from fallen mankind are given power
and authority, corruption is an ever-present possibility.
We are a fledgling nation here in T&T and it is really
up to us at this stage to decide what kind of society we want
to fashion and mould for our future generations. Instead of
viewing it as a purely negative thing, the present upheavals
between the State and the Judiciary can be seen as growth
pains as we seek to form and fashion a better system of Jurisprudence
and the Rule of Law.