Social justice practice
At Maurice Blackburn we recognise that there are individuals and
organisations in our community who cannot afford the services of a
lawyer. That's why in appropriate cases, Maurice Blackburn will
provide legal services to such organisations and individuals on a
no charge (pro bono) or reduced charge basis. We also work
with many barristers on a similar basis. We fight for
This work is based on the view that Australian and international
law should support the notion of justice and reflect community
values. The firm's Social Justice Practice challenges the excesses
of government and business and champions the rights of those that
are disadvantaged. We believe legal action that supports social
justice contributes to a better society.
A history of fighting for
Maurice Blackburn has led litigation in the public interest on
behalf of refugees, workers who have been underpaid, and people who
have been unfairly targeted by national security legislation.
As far back as 1945, the firm worked with the ACTU and won a
claim for the 40-hour week. Maurice Blackburn also worked together
with union clients for equal wages for women throughout the 1950s
and 60s until the final victory in 1972, when the principle of
equal pay for equal work became law. In 1966 we acted on behalf of
the Northern Australian Workers Union in a landmark victory in the
Northern Territory Cattle Industry Case.
Aboriginal men employed as station hands achieved wage equality and
award conditions were extended to them. This case set the stage for
similar decisions to be achieved in other industries. [See other
Social Justice practice
Maurice Blackburn has a dedicated Social Justice Practice,
headed by Elizabeth O'Shea which draws on lawyers from each of the
firms different practice areas, providing access to the some of the
best legal social justice expertise in Australia.
Key areas of practice:
Examples of how Maurice Blackburn's Social Justice Practice has
assisted organisations and individuals are listed below.
Maurice Blackburn welcomes applications for assistance. These
should be directed to Elizabeth O'Shea.
1. Civil and Political
Wrongful detention - Dr Mohamed Haneef case
Dr Mohamed Haneef was arrested in 2007 and charged with a
terrorism-related offence and his Australian visa was cancelled. He
was released after nearly four weeks in detention, the charge was
withdrawn and the decision to cancel his visa was subsequently
overruled by the Federal Court. The investigation and detention of
Dr Haneef cost over $7.5 million.
Dr Haneef instructed Maurice Blackburn to act on his behalf
during the Clarke Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his
arrest and detention in 2008. Dr Haneef's legal team included Rod
Hodgson, of our Brisbane Office amongst others.
This case has now settled. Mediation
False imprisonment of children class action
Maurice Blackburn, through our Social Justice Practice, has
joined with the Public Interest Advocacy
Centre (PIAC) to launch a class action in the New South Wales
Supreme Court seeking compensation for children and young people
who were unlawfully arrested by police for breach of outdated bail
Countless children and young people in New South Wales have been
wrongfully arrested because of a long-standing problem with the New
South Wales Police Force's computer system containing incorrect or
out-of-date bail information. Police officers often rely on
information from the Computerised Operational Policing System,
known as 'COPS', to arrest people for suspected breaches of bail.
However, where bail information on COPS is inaccurate, it can lead
to the wrongful arrest of a person for breach of bail.
For more information, click
Charitable status with the ATO - Aid/Watch Case
Aid/Watch is an organisation which monitors Australian aid
spending and debt and trade policy. Aid/Watch conducts and
publishes research into the impacts of development policies and
practices. Maurice Blackburn is acting for Aid/Watch
following a decision by the Australian Taxation Office to withdraw
its charitable status.
In 2006 when Aid/Watch exposed the misuse of Federal Tsunami
Aid, the former Foreign Minister himself telephoned Aid/Watch
offices and threatened to cease funding the organization, only to
be informed by staff that under its constitution the organisation
could not accept government funding. Later that year the Australian
Tax Office (ATO) withdrew Aid/Watch's charitable status for taking
a 'particular point of view' on the aid program.
With the support of Maurice Blackburn Aid/Watch was successful
in its appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but lost at
the Federal Court following an appeal by the ATO. Most recently,
the firm successfully applied for special leave to appeal to the
High Court. In December 2010, the High Court handed down a
decision in favour of Aid/Watch and found that the generation of
public debate was a social benefit for the purposes of charity
Click here to view the media release.
Enough Pokies In Castlemaine
Maurice Blackburn represented Enough Pokies in Castlemaine at a
Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal hearing in which we
opposed more poker machines being introduced into the small
Victorian country town.
The Maryborough Highland Society, headquartered 40km away from
Castlemaine in a different shire, attempted to convert
Castlemaine's historic Railway Goods Shed into a venue with 65
poker machines, tripling the number of pokies in town.
The local Council opposed the proposal and argued this view at
the Victorian Commission for Gaming Regulation (as it was then
called). As Castlemaine has a delicate local economy of family-run
businesses, Council has adopted a policy that no further gaming
venues be set up in town (the local Cumberland Hotel already houses
There are almost no chain stores in town, not even a supermarket
giant and the Council put this policy in place due to community
concern over how pokies would draw income away from local
The Society got around these barriers by leasing a building on
State Government land that sits outside the local planning
As part of its case at the Commission, the Council polled public
opinion. It found that 72 per cent of local people did not want the
venue to go ahead. Community opposition was the centrepiece of
EPIC's case before VCAT.
EPIC is a community organisation comprising over 1,500 people
from a town of only 7,000, and includes a broad cross-section of
the Castlemaine community - with local businesses, artists, the
local psychiatrist, problem gamblers and their family and friends
VCAT handed down its orders on 14 February 2013. This was a
significant win for EPIC and community groups throughout
summary, 14 February 2013
VCAT orders, 14 February
rules to block pokies barn in EPIC Castlemaine battle, media
statement, 14 February 2013
2. Consumer Rights
Commercialisation of human genetic material - breast
cancer gene patenting
In an Australian first, Maurice Blackburn began legal action
against four biotech companies to challenge a patent over human
genetic material in 2010. The case is being run on behalf of a
Brisbane woman with breast cancer, Yvonne D'Arcy. The mutation is
associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in
The Federal Court issued judgement on 15 February 2013. The
matter is now on appeal to the full court of the Federal Court.
Maurice Blackburn is arguing that the patent held by companies
including Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic
Technologies Ltd is invalid. The cases raises philosophical and
ethical issues about the commercialisation of the human body. It
also exposes practical concerns around gene patents including
access to the gene mutation for research and testing purposes.
In Australia, the test case was supported by Cancer Voices
Australia and is being run by Maurice Blackburn's Social Justice
Practice, led by Rebecca Gilsenan and barristers David
Catterns QC and Peter Cashman.
cancer gene patent case: appeal will go ahead, 4 March 2013
Breast cancer gene patent test case: response to Federal Court
ruling, 15 February 2013
Australia (one of the original parties to the legal action)
3. Asylum Seeker Rights
Adverse security assessment - Muhammad Faisal
Muhammad Faisal was held on Nauru and was one of the last two
asylum seekers left there in 2004. Faisal suffered from high levels
of anxiety, bad vision, took medication daily, and tried to take
his own life. After five years in detention Faisal was moved to a
psychiatric facility in Brisbane. ASIO deemed Faisal to be a
security risk, and denied him a visa.
In February 2007 ASIO reversed their decision and Faisal was
granted a visa, however, his adverse security assessment has not
been withdrawn. Faisal has still not been given access to his
adverse security assessment. We continue to work on accessing
documents that led to the decision by ASIO to assess Faisal as a
threat to national security.
Adverse security assessment - Mohammed Sagar
Mohammed Sagar fled Iraq to Australia. He was assessed as a
refugee, but when he sought clearance from ASIO, was given an
adverse security assessment which prevented him from being released
into the Australian community. He was then held on Nauru for five
years between 2001 and 2005. Unable to settle in Australia,
and with the adverse security assessment making it difficult to
seek asylum in another country, Sagar faced the real prospect of
indefinite detention on Nauru. In 2007, Sweden accepted him as a
refugee and he passed the relevant security assessments without
Sagar has not been given any indication as to the basis of the
case against him. We continue to work on his behalf to challenge
the adverse security assessment.
Psychological harm suffered in mandatory detention - Shayan Badraie case
Maurice Blackburn represented 11-year-old Iranian refugee Shayan
Badraie in a landmark case in the NSW Supreme Court in 2006. The
family accepted a settlement payment of $400,000 as compensation
for psychological harm suffered by the boy whilst in detention. The
practices and condition of the detention centre were exposed in a
three month trial that included testimony from the former detention
camp commander. The settlement offer was only made as the trial
Shayan was in detention between the ages of five and seven. He
developed post-traumatic stress disorder and refused to eat, drink
or talk after witnessing traumatic events such as suicide attempts,
self harm and abuse in detention centres. The case is the first
time the Federal Government has conceded that a child has been
psychologically damaged while in mandatory detention. The
settlement is an acceptance of responsibility for the psychiatric
injuries suffered by Shayan during his period of detention. He and
his family have now been granted citizenship.
4. Workplace rights
The family of Larry Knight and the Australian Workers Union were
supported by Maurice Blackburn in the six week coroner's inquest
following the Beaconsfield Mine Collapse.
Maurice Blackburn represented security guard, Faisal Durrani, an
international student who worked at the 2008 Australian Open as a
security guard. Durrani was paid only $1.26 per hour during the
month that he worked. We were successful in obtaining more
than $120,000 in unpaid wages and penalties for Durrani.
The Social Justice Practice has also assisted Prateek Sahni to
recover wages owing to him by a Subway franchisee after the manager
did not pay him for more than 40 hours work at the fast food outlet
and required him to do unpaid heavy labour at his house. Maurice
Blackburn is helping Sahni to seek penalties for breaches of the
award and minimum pay conditions that could exceed $200,000.
Unpaid wages cases - Scott Lee and Jackey Wang
The Social Justice Practice is assisting a number of
international students to recover wages owing to them
by their employers. International students are
particularly vulnerable to exploitation by their employers for
a variety of reasons and Maurice Blackburn is seeking to raise
awareness about their plight. Scott Lee and Jackey Wang are
owed over $23,000 in unpaid wages and have struggled financially
because of this. Maurice Blackburn is helping Lee
and Jackey to seek penalties for breaches of the award and
minimum pay conditions that could exceed $100,000.
5. Indigenous equality
Maurice Blackburn's Social Justice Practice Indigenous and Land
Rights Sub-Committee developed our Aboriginal Reconciliation Action Plan in
consultation with Reconciliation Australia and Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander representative bodies including the
Aboriginal Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria, Tarwirri. The plan was launched by Aboriginal
barrister Munya Andrews on 24 March 2011.
See the plan here.
Indigenous land rights - Muckaty Station
Maurice Blackburn has filed a legal challenge against the
Commonwealth Government and the Northern Land Council over plans
for a radioactive waste dump on Indigenous land in the Northern
Territory. Mark Lane Jangala, a senior Traditional Owner of Muckaty
Station near Tennant Creek, claims he and senior elders from four
other Traditional Owner groups were not adequately consulted before
Muckaty Station was nominated as a site for Australia's first
radioactive waste dump. By law, before a site on Aboriginal land
can be nominated, the informed consent of the Traditional Owners
has to be sought and obtained.
Mr Lane Jangala has instructed Maurice Blackburn, together with
NSW firm Surry Partners and Julian Burnside QC, to commence
proceedings challenging the nomination of Muckaty Station as a site
for the disposal of radioactive waste.
Traditional owners to fight nuke waste dump,
14 March 2012
Australian nuclear dump closer to reality, 14
Muckaty waste dump, Habitat, 25 October,
Ownership of nuclear waste site disputed,
Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 2011
Law firm takes step towards reconciliation,
National Indigenous Times, 31 March 2011
Legal challenge to nuke dump launched,
Northern Territory News, 3 June 2011
New Federal laws on nuclear waste have no impact on Muckaty legal
challenge, 13 March 2012
Fresh evidence boosts traditional owners legal challenge to Muckaty
Station nuclear waste dump, 9 May 2011
firm takes step towards Aboriginal reconciliation, 24 March
Indigenous owners launch Federal legal challenge
over Australia's first nuclear waste dump, 3 June 2010
Stolen Generation Compensation Payments
Maurice Blackburn has assisted members of the Stolen Generation
to make applications for compensation under statutory regimes and
has assisted claimants to make Freedom of Information requests to
records relating to their removal and housing.
The Social Justice practice is actively searching for further
avenues to assist the Indigenous community with public interest
6. Environment and Climate
Maurice Blackburn successfully represented The Wilderness
Society in proceedings brought against it and other defendants by
Gunns Limited in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Gunns claimed that
environmental activists and groups harmed the company by disrupting
logging and woodchipping operations and by damaging the company's
The proceedings were resolved on 18 March 2009 in favour of The
Wilderness Society with Gunns agreeing to make a net payment to the
society of $325,000.
Doctors for the Environment v Dual Gas
Maurice Blackburn represented Doctors for the Environment (DEA)
in their challenge to a decision by the Environmental Protection
Authority to approve a coal fuelled power station in the La Trobe
valley, built by Dual Gas Pty Ltd. DEA made arguments about the
significant health problems for people who live near coal burning
power plants, especially when compared with renewable forms of
energy production. For the first time in Australia, DEA made
arguments about the adverse health effects of climate change, which
would be accelerated by the proposed power plant.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
acknowledged the important arguments made by DEA and its decision
and imposed certain conditions on the construction of the power
plant as a result. Dual Gas has since abandoned plans to build the
plan in the La Trobe Valley.