The violent death of underworld figure Carl Williams in Victoria's Barwon Prison has raised serious questions about the legal liability of prison authorities.
Williams was murdered by a fellow inmate - allegedly with the stem of an exercise bike - while they were in the prison's exercise yard.
According to the director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns, questions now arise as to the liability of prison authorities who, at the time of Williams' attack, were bound by a duty of care to ensure his welfare.
"The law in Australia requires prison authorities to protect those in their care, including Carl Williams," said Barns.
"If the vicious assault that caused his death could have been avoided through adequate prison systems, then it should be of great concern to the Victorian taxpayer, who may ultimately be forced to foot the bill for any successful claim made by Williams' daughter or other family members."
Barns said the High Court had tested the extent of this duty of care in the 2005 case of Peter Bujdoso.
Bujdoso, a prisoner in Silverwater prison, had informed prison authorities that he feared for his life after fellow inmates made serious threats against him.
Bujdoso was later attacked by four inmates and sustained serious injuries, including a fractured skull.
He successfully sued the NSW Government for failing in their duty of care to protect Bujdoso, and the decision was upheld in the High Court under Chief Justice Gleeson.
"If those who run Corrections Victoria - particularly those in charge of Barwon Prison - knew that Williams was at risk of ... serious injury or death, and they did not take measures to prevent it, then they may be liable for damages," said Barns.
"Once inside prison, [Williams] was as entitled, as every single prisoner in Victoria is, to prison authorities taking appropriate steps to ensure his physical and mental safety."
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