Files to lift lid on Lionel Murphy saga

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Secret documents which could prove the misconduct of former High Court judge Lionel Murphy are being released after 31 years.

The sealed files, obtained by a commission of inquiry before Murphy’s 1986 death, will be made public on Thursday.

The commission was set up after Murphy was acquitted of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Murphy, an attorney-general in the Whitlam government, was appointed to the High Court in 1975.

His troubles started with the publication of the so-called Age tapes in 1984, which purported to include conversations he had with a Sydney solicitor who was charged over an immigration scam.

Two Senate inquiries were held; the first cleared Murphy but the second found his conduct might have amounted to proved misbehaviour.

By then, the NSW chief magistrate and a District Court judge said Murphy had improperly tried to influence them in favour of the Sydney solicitor.

He was charged in 1985 with two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The trial famously heard Murphy said to the chief magistrate: “And now, what about my little mate.”

Murphy was ultimately cleared after an appeal and a retrial.

But as he prepared to return to court duties, against the wishes of the chief justice, fresh claims of misbehaviour started circulating.

With a political storm looming, the government asked three retired judges to investigate the new allegations, and decide whether Murphy ought be removed from the court.

It’s not known just how far the commission got before Murphy announced he was dying of cancer and the inquiry was shut down.

The release of the 31-year-old files could bring to a close one of Australia’s most politically painful and judicially sensational cases.

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