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The Australian Lawyer Who Fought for Prison Reform and Much More

He was the “the old guy in the hat”, but for over 20 years Australian lawyer Jack Grahame was the man who could see redemption in just about anyone.  The Sydney lawyer was with the Prisoners Legal Service of Legal Aid NSW and struck a chord both with prisoners and a great many others with his dramatic appearance and commitment to legal aid.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Grahame loved theatre in all its forms, as well as discovering fine tailoring, sports cars and the excitement of investing in business, spending the small capital he inherited at 21 on some of each.

He also endured compulsory National Service, developing a passionate dislike of arbitrary authority and a great talent for polishing boots.

He began a law degree and took articles in 1957, but in 1961 moved to the Solicitors Admission Board process, qualifying as a solicitor in 1965. He also married Rachel Cookson in 1961.

As a solicitor in a small firm in the city, Grahame made time among the conveyances, divorces and wills to take on the cases of conscientious objectors to the Vietnam draft, students who demonstrated against apartheid, prisoners bashed in prison and people opposing censorship of all kinds.

By the early 1970s, he was known for this advocacy, as well as his full black beard and Edwardian-style suits. He was probably the only bearded lawyer in Sydney at that time.

Grahame became active in prison reform after his involvement as a lawyer in the investigation of the systematic assault of prisoners in Bathurst jail, known as ”the Bathurst batterings”.

He appeared on behalf of prisoners before the subsequent Nagle Royal Commission into NSW Prisons in 1976. A long-time member of the Council for Civil Liberties, he also helped to form the Penal Reform Council and later a revived Labor Lawyers, hoping to improve prisons and the legal system.

Grahame also spent a decade from 1976 as a part-time member of the NSW Builders Licensing Board, and was proud of its implementation of a superannuation scheme for building workers, and building insurance for consumers.

The dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975 was a disillusioning experience for Grahame, and may have contributed to his decision in 1978 to go into business with some ALP friends, marketing a sales tax minimisation scheme. This was successful for a short time and Grahame invested in other business ventures.

Then in 1985, he and the others were arrested in a blaze of publicity and charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth. He fought the charges, while also running two suburban legal practices single-handedly, until they were sold in anticipation of the trial. All charges were dropped in late 1990, the day before the case was to start.

From 1992, Grahame was a solicitor in the Prisoners Legal Service of NSW Legal Aid, where he worked until his 80th year. He made principled cases for parole for even his most notorious clients, including Russell “Mad Dog” Cox, John Lewthwaite, and Graham Potter, and was outspoken when media and politicians tried to politicise the process.

The coloful lawyer will be missed by many – not the least by his prisoner clientele and legal and arts colleagues.
See: SMH
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