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Former prisoner’s ‘unusual’ case against major compensation firm

A Supreme Court said it was faced with an “unusual” matter when a former prisoner attempted to bring disciplinary proceedings against one of Australia’s biggest compensation firms.

user iconNaomi Neilson 09 June 2023 Big Law
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Former West Australian prisoner Matthew Murphy alleged a solicitor with Maurice Blackburn was negligent by failing to provide him with appropriate advice about time-limit constraints.

Mr Murphy has alleged he was assaulted between October 2015 and August 2017 while he was incarcerated at four prisons.

He told the West Australian Supreme Court he approached the firm to bring action against the state of Western Australia and Serco Australia with allegations they breached a duty of care owed to him.


In proceedings heard late last month, Mr Murphy unsuccessfully applied to the Supreme Court for a summary judgment and for release from a Harman undertaking, which prevents a party from disclosing documents obtained from one proceeding for another.

Maurice Blackburn objected to the release from the Harman undertaking.

The firm said there was a failure to properly identify which documents and added the application was made “for an improper purpose”.

During the proceedings, Mr Murphy said he intended to use the documents for “media interviews” but did not identify which outlets or the way these organisations may use the documents.

“The defendant says that this is the antithesis of the protection provided by the implied undertaking,” Master Craig Sanderson said.

“Clearly, the defendant correctly identified the flaw in this application.”

As for the summary judgment, Master Sanderson said this was made almost a year out of time but allowed the extension.

However, this application was made more complicated by the solicitor who represented Mr Murphy having left Maurice Blackburn and his refusal to cooperate with the firm and its insurers.

The application was dismissed.

“This was an unusual case,” Master Sanderson said.

“It is one of those rare instances where the defendant, through no fault of his own, was simply unable to adequately investigate the circumstances of the case so as to respond to the plaintiff’s summary judgment application,” Master Sanderson said.

“It might be regarded as a ‘catch all’ phrase to ensure the remedy of summary judgment is only invoked in those circumstances where there can be no real doubt as to the party’s liability.

“In my view, this case was not so clear, given the limitations faced by the defendant, as to warrant the grant of summary judgment.”