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Governments may overreach their powers, or use existing powers in ways they weren’t intended for.

The rise of the modern corporation has brought a concentration of economic power. Corporations may make efforts to avoid regulation, and at times violate the rights of citizens and consumers.

Our Social justice practice challenges the excesses of government and business. 

We’ve challenged Federal and State Governments to protect the rights of people in their care.

We have defended the interests of Aboriginal health care services to be adequately consulted when big business and government permitted the building of mega-liquor store in close proximity to three Aboriginal communities. 

We defended the rights of imprisoned children from errors in their bail conditions made by the New South Wales Government, and settled a class action against the Federal Government after people with disabilities were assaulted whilst under state care.

Do we own our own genes?

We won a case against an international genetics corporation who tried to patent a gene that can cause breast cancer. The win helps ensure that women have access to cost-effective breast cancer treatment.

While Governments and corporations continue to overreach their powers, we will continue to act, ensuring that Australian workers and citizens are protected.

Whether it’s by supporting Union action, launching a class action, or taking a case all the way to the High Court, we will support the notion of justice and reflect community values.

Breast cancer gene patenting: Attempted commercialisation of human genetic material

In an Australian first Yvonne D’Arcy, a Brisbane woman with cancer, represented by us, won a ‘David and Goliath’ battle against a United States based molecular diagnostic company. Myriad Genetics had attempted to patent the BRCA1 gene which, if present, dramatically increases a woman's chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

The case ran on a pro bono basis over 5 years and was won in October 2015.

Key court dates and rulings

  • In 2010 Maurice Blackburn began legal action to challenge the patent of the BRCA1 gene on behalf of Yvonne D’Arcy.
  • In February 2013 Justice Nicholas (Federal Court) ruled in favour of Myriad and agreed that isolated gene sequences are the product of human intervention and are therefore patentable.
  • Maurice Blackburn lodged an appeal which was heard by the Full Federal Court. On 5 September 2014, the full Federal Court upheld Justice Nicholas’ ruling.
  • On 16 September 2014, we sought leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia.
  • The High Court of Australia ruled on 7 October 2015 unanimously in our favour, the case was won.

Myriad Genetics argued it held patents over the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes which can increase breast cancer risk in women if present.

They argued that as they had discovered the gene by isolating it, that this amounted to an invention and they could therefore patent the invention. They also argued that these patents would ensure innovation as they could be commercialised for women’s benefit.

We disagreed and together with Yvonne D’Arcy we took Myriad Genetics all the way to the High Court to fight against the BRCA-1 patent. We won.

We argued that isolated genetic material is not an invention because it is naturally occurring, and therefore couldn’t be patented. Under current law only inventions which are considered a 'manner of manufacture' or 'manner of new manufacture' can be patentable.

Mistreatment of detainees in youth detention

On 25 July 2016, ABC’s Four Corners aired a report entitled ‘Australia’s Shame’ which exposed the mistreatment of detainees in youth detention in the Northern Territory.  In response to the Four Corners report and public outrage, the Commonwealth Government announced the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

Detention Centre sign

In the wake of the Four Corners report, we received referrals from Northern Territory legal services for young people who had been similarly mistreated in youth detention. Our investigations revealed that this was very widespread. We filed a class action on behalf of young people mistreated in detention in December 2016.

The class action is brought by Dylan Jenkings and Aaron Hyde on behalf of all young people mistreated in any Northern Territory youth detention centre between 1 August 2006 and 27 November 2017.

The applicants claim that mistreatment and other bad conditions detainees suffered came about because of racial discrimination as around 90% of detainees were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and then all detainees were subjected to the bad treatment and conditions.  Young people do not need to be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to be part of the class action.

 

The wrongful detention of Dr Mohamed Haneef

Dr Mohamed Haneef was arrested in 2007 and charged with a terrorism-related offence, which resulted in his Australian visa being cancelled.  After being held in detention for nearly a month, Dr Haneef was released, the charge was withdrawn and the decision to cancel his visa was subsequently overruled by the Federal Court.  In all, the investigation and detention of Dr Haneef cost taxpayers over $7.5 million.

Dr Haneef was an innocent man who suffered a terrible injustice when he was wrongfully detained and charged with a terrorism-related offence. Maurice Blackburn acted on his behalf during the Clarke Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention in 2008.

The discussions held between the Australian Government and Dr Haneef reached a confidential outcome that was fair and significant, and which recognised the injustice that Dr Haneef had suffered. The settlement included a formal public apology to Dr Haneef.

Who advocates for children in the justice system?

On 8 June 2011, together with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, we launched a class action in the Supreme Court of New South Wales seeking compensation for children and young people who have been wrongfully arrested and detained by NSW police for breach of bail.

Wrongly imprisoned 

It is thought that many children and young people have been wrongfully arrested in NSW because of a long-standing problem with the police computer system containing out-of-date or incorrect bail information. Sometimes a person's bail status will change either when their case is finalised in the Children's Court or their bail conditions are varied: often these changes in a person's bail status are not being added to the police computer system.

The consequence of this problem with the police computer system has been a devastating loss of freedom for the children and young people who are wrongfully arrested by police officers acting on the basis of wrong information.

The State of New South Wales has agreed to pay money into a fund to be administered for participating group members. We, as lawyers for the plaintiff, will administer a settlement scheme if it is approved by the Court.

Grand Western Lodge class action

We acted in a class action in the Federal Court of Australia seeking compensation for people with disabilities who were allegedly assaulted, falsely imprisoned or suffered financial losses while they were residents of Grand Western Lodge.

Grand Western Lodge

The class action was brought by Paul McAlister, by his litigation representative the NSW Trustee and Guardian, on behalf of more than 40 adults with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities who were residents of Grand Western Lodge, a "licenced premises for handicapped people" in Millthorpe, NSW, between 2000 and 2011.

The class action was against Adrian Powell, the manager of Grand Western Lodge, his company, Avibin Pty Ltd, which was the operator of the licence granted by the State, and the State of NSW for its failure to monitor and enforce its own licence conditions.

It was alleged in the claim that Mr Powell physically assaulted residents as well as encouraging a residents' committee to assault residents. It was also alleged that Mr Powell confined residents as punishment and administered non-prescribed quantities of psychotropic medication to sedate some residents. The claim details allegations that Mr Powell frequently assaulted and falsely imprisoned Mr McAlister.

The Grand Western Lodge class action settled on the basis of payment by the Respondents to the Applicant, Mr McAlister, and the 50 class members of a total of $4.05 million.

The Tecoma 8 protest ban

When global fast-food giant McDonalds decided to build a new 24-hour store in Tecoma, a small town in the foothills of the Dandenong ranges in Victoria, the local community organised to protest against it.

Little did they know that McDonalds would attempt an interim injunction in the Supreme Court in an attempt to quell the protests.

The Tecoma 8 group protesting

The orders sought by McDonalds applied to a group or protestors known as ‘The Tecoma 8’, but also had implications to people who wouldn’t even know they were subject to them. The orders attempted to bind an ill-defined class of people, and were structured in such a way that, if successful, could have had significant implications for community protests.

McDonalds reached an out of court settlement with the protestors whereby McDonalds agreed to discontinue the proceedings, whilst the defendants agreed to not undertake activities that could be deemed as trespass or nuisance. The protesters paid no legal costs,

We acted pro-bono in this case because peaceful protest is fundamental to civil rights and democracy.

Danila Dilba and the NT Liquor Licencing Commission

In 2021 we acted for Danila Dilba Health Services, the largest provider of Aboriginal health services in the Northern Territory, to challenge a decision by the NT government to permit the building of a mega-liquor store in Darwin in close proximity to three Aboriginal communities. Combined with a sustained campaign from community stakeholders this litigation placed pressure on big business to reconsider the impact of their liquor store and announce that the project would not go ahead. The case is an example of how the law can be used as part of a collaborative strategy to work towards a shared vison of reducing the risk of alcohol related harm and ensuring government and business engage in proper, detail consultation with impacted community groups.

Transparent and accountable government

We are committed to using the law to strengthen Australian democracy. Our leaders should make decisions in a transparent manner so they are kept accountable that are transparent and keep them accountable to the Australian people. A strong democratic system is underpinned by checks on power that work to ensure decisions impacting people’s rights are open to scrutiny.  It is a fundamental right to access government information. 

Freedom of Information and the unlawful Robodebt Scheme

In 2021 we partnered with the Grata Fund and acted for Justin Warren’s in his appeal to access information about the unlawful Robodebt scheme under Freedom of Information laws (FOI). Our client sought information from the Commonwealth government concerning the decision to implement Robodebt. The Robodebt scheme has caused considerable harm to the Australian public. On 11 June 2021, Justice Murphy described the Robodebt scheme as a ‘massive failure of public administration.’ 

The case before the AAT, related to documents Mr Warren first requested in 2017. Services Australia rejected the request. Despite the Information Commissioner in 2019 ordering Services Australia to release many of the documents, the government agency appealed this decision to the AAT. The case has been before the AAT for over 2 years, with the final hearing occurring in December 2021. 

We believe that for our democracy to function there needs to be a continual conversation between government and the Australian community. We need to be able to question and review decisions of our elected officials. Such transparency and scrutiny is critical to ensuring our politicians are doing what they were elected to do - representing the interest of Australian citizens. We will continue to work to ensure the fundamental right to access government information is upheld.  

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Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.

We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.