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Philip Morgan Woodward (1912–1997)

by Glenn Mitchell

This article was published online in 2024

Philip Morgan Woodward (1912–1997), barrister, judge, and royal commissioner, was born on 2 February 1912 at Goulburn, New South Wales, eldest of five children of New South Wales-born parents Windsor Harold Woodward, clerk of petty sessions, and his wife Mary Jane (Jeannie), née Morgan. His father’s work moved the family around New South Wales, until in 1924 Windsor resigned from the State Department of the Attorney-General and of Justice and went into private practice as a solicitor in Sydney. Educated at De La Salle College, Ashfield, Philip excelled at school. He gained his Intermediate certificate in 1926 and his Leaving certificate the following year; having sat the latter examination at the age of fourteen, he thus became one of the youngest students to pass. At the 1928 examination the University of Sydney (LLB, 1933) awarded him a public exhibition to study law. In 1932 he was admitted as a barrister in New South Wales.

The following year Woodward was involved in a series of sensational murder trials. He was junior counsel for the defence for Eric Roland Craig, who was accused of the murders of May Miller and Bessie O’Connor. Found guilty of manslaughter in the case of Miller and murder in the case of O’Connor, Craig was sentenced to death for the latter crime, though this was later commuted to life in prison. With J. A. Friendship, Woodward wrote The Procedure in the District Courts of New South Wales (1934); they would later revise it as District Court Practice and Procedure (N.S.W.) (1952). In 1935 he left the Bar and was admitted as a solicitor; he went into practice at Casino. On 11 April 1936 at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Edgecliff, he married Frances Thelma Mason, an accountant; they would divorce in 1945. He returned to Sydney and was re-admitted to the Bar in 1938.

Volunteering for service in World War II, Woodward enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces in October 1939 and was commissioned in the Royal Australian Artillery in May 1940. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 1 July and arrived in the Middle East with the 2/9th Field Regiment in May 1941. On 26 June he accidentally shot himself in the thigh, rendering himself medically unfit for service in the field. A court of inquiry found he had been negligent in failing to check that a pistol was unloaded before dismantling it. Transferred to the Australian Army Legal Department (later Corps), he was employed as a courts martial officer in Palestine until he returned to Australia in March 1942. He was promoted to captain (1942) and temporary (1943) and substantive (February 1944) major, while performing legal staff duties at successive formation headquarters, this work entailing periods of service in New Guinea (1944–45). In Sydney on 28 May 1945, he was placed on the Retired List. On 3 May that year he married Sadie Annette Thomas, an army nurse, at St John’s Church of England, Toorak, Victoria; the marriage would end in divorce.

Returning to Sydney and the law, Woodward was appointed QC in 1956. He built a large practice, coming to specialise in cases of libel, and by 1958 was practising from Wentworth Chambers. ‘A fine jury advocate,’ he ‘identified strongly with his clients’ cases’ (Whitton 1997, 18). He was president of the New South Wales Bar Association (1969–71) and the Australian Bar Association (1970). In October 1971 he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. On 24 October 1975 at Cammeray he married Pauline Edith Margaret Malyon, née Bragg, a secretary. Having visited South-East Asia in 1976 to study issues of drug distribution and the treatment of offenders, he became a director of the James McGrath Foundation after it was established in 1977 to address the problem of drug addiction.

In August 1977 the Australian Labor Party government of Neville Wran appointed Woodward the sole commissioner of the State royal commission into drug trafficking. Pressure to hold such a commission had been building for some time, with allegations of marijuana crops in New South Wales and organised criminal networks growing and distributing this and other drugs. After Donald Mackay, a prominent anti-drugs campaigner, disappeared at Griffith on 15 July 1977, the State government established the royal commission. Initially it was appointed for six months, but it was several times extended and Woodward presented his report in October 1979. He made eighty-nine recommendations covering a range of issues, including law enforcement, intelligence gathering, State–Federal and international cooperation, and the treatment of addicts and offenders. The report confirmed evidence, hitherto not publicly revealed, about organised crime and its links to drug-dealing, although it would be criticised for its focus on the town of Griffith and lack of attention to other criminal networks.

Woodward left the Supreme Court in 1982, and in retirement enjoyed making furniture. In 1986 he criticised the Wran government for failing to fully implement the royal commission’s recommendations. On 10 November 1997 he had a heart attack while driving and died at Northbridge following a head-on car crash; he was cremated. His wife, one daughter from his first marriage, three daughters from his second, and one stepson survived him. His former colleague on the Supreme Court, Sir Laurence Street, remembered his ‘compassion and understanding’ and his ‘ability to be incisive in … getting down to the real substance of disputes’ (Green 1997, 4).

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Cunningham, James. ‘Early Anti-Drugs Campaigner.’ Age (Melbourne), 13 November 1997, B2
  • Green, Penelope. ‘Drug Traffic Crusader Woodward Dies, 85.’ Australian, 11 November 1997, 4
  • McCoy, Alfred W. Drug Traffic: Narcotics and Organized Crime in Australia. Sydney: Harper & Row, 1980
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX12637
  • Small, Clive, and Tom Gilling. Smack Express: How Organised Crime Got Hooked on Drugs. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2009
  • Whitton, Evan. ‘Judge Pursued Drug Overlords.’ Australian, 12 November 1997, 18

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Glenn Mitchell, 'Woodward, Philip Morgan (1912–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/woodward-philip-morgan-32726/text40680, published online 2024, accessed online 14 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

2 February, 1912
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

Death

10 November, 1997 (aged 85)
Northbridge, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

motor vehicle accident

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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