Carl Williams v State of Victoria: Duty of care

Peter Norden

Adjunct Professor, School of Global, Social and Urban Studies, RMIT

What might be “the duty of care” of a State Prison Authority in relation to ensuring the secure management of the number one security prisoner in Australia?

When asked to provide an Expert Witness Statement in support of Dhakota Williams’ claim for compensation, following the murder of her father in the maximum security division, Acacia, of the maximum security Barwon Prison, there were significant matters to consider.

Williams was murdered on 19 April 2010.  In December 2014, Spicer Lawyers confirmed that they had instructions to retain my services for the preparation of an expert witness report as to the procedures in place at Barwon Prison at the time of Carl Williams’ death, procedures after the death of Carl Williams and circumstances related to the death.

The management of high security prisoners is a difficult and complex task, particularly in the changing circumstances that existed with relation to the custody of Carl Williams.

This paper will outline why I came to the conclusion “that the Victorian Department of Justice failed to balance the competing interests between what Victoria Police wanted to achieve with Carl Williams as a police witness as against the responsibility of the Department to protect his safety”.

I will explain why it was “my conclusion that these objectives were competing objectives and that they were not adequately managed by the Victorian Department of Justice”.

The matter was decided in favour of the plaintiff, in a confidential out of court settlement.


Peter Norden is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Global, Social and Urban Studies at RMIT University.  He has worked in various roles in the criminal justice system since he founded The Brosnan Centre for released offenders in 1977.  From 1985-1992 he was the Catholic Chaplain at Pentridge Prison, and during the 1990’s was the Convenor of the Victorian Criminal Justice Coalition.  In recent years he has provided Expert Witness reports in relation to three maximum security incidents in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria.

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