The Johnston Withers story starts in 1946, when our founder Elliott Johnston hung up a brass plate proclaiming "Elliott Johnston, Barrister & Solicitor" in a tiny office on King William Street, Adelaide.
He shared the premises with a wrestling ring upstairs, which may have set the tone for many of the legal fights to come. In 1959, Elliott was then joined by his first partner and wife Elizabeth, who later became the first Commissioner for Equal Opportunity in South Australia.
Both Elliot and Elizabeth had extensive backgrounds in Union organisations, and throughout the 1960s and 70s, Johnston Withers gained a reputation for protecting the rights of workers through its employment, workers compensation and personal injury practices.
Elliot and Elizabeth acted for thousands of workers in relation to their workers compensation claims over the past decades – and we continue to do so today.
In 1971, Elliott and Andrew Collett, a barrister with Johnston Withers who was later retained as one of the counsel in the first South Australian ‘stolen children’ action, were instrumental in establishing the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in South Australia.
Since then, we’ve continued to act for many Aboriginal communities in native title cases and in protecting Aboriginal heritage.
Throughout our existence, we’ve acted for plaintiffs in significant cases that have developed and expanded the protection of the law, including securing the native title claim for the Adnyamathanha People of the Flinders Ranges, and winning the landmark cases of Chakravarti v Advertiser Newspapers Ltd, Duffy v. Google Inc., and Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd v Amadio.
Johnston Withers has been a key player in many major political and social disputes over the past decades.
We’ve acted on a pro bono basis for many of the protesters involved in the moratorium demonstrations throughout the Vietnam War, and represented many gay men and women, including defending them from criminal charges when the attitude of society was very different to that of today.
Today, we act for plaintiffs in cases concerning human rights and we continue our heritage of acting to promote social change and improvements in the legal system.
A major platform of Johnston Withers has been providing access to justice for many people who otherwise wouldn't be helped in the legal system.
Our former managing director Brian Withers AM, who became a Master of the Supreme Court in November 2004, was a driving force behind the establishment of the Law Society Litigation Assistance Fund, which ensures that those with low income should still have the opportunity to obtain proper legal representation.
He is remembered every year by the Law Society of South Australia with the Brian Withers AM Award, which recognises a person who provides outstanding service to the Law Society, the legal profession and the community.
We’re proud to have a long history of working with prominent practitioners, each of whom have contributed to our rich history and reputation.
Our founder Elliott Johnston AO QC ,who became a Supreme Court Judge and was appointed Commissioner for the National Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Elizabeth Johnston, who became the first Commissioner for Equal Opportunities in South Australia
Brian Withers AM, formerly Judge Withers, Master of the Supreme Court
Robyn Layton AO QC, former Judge in the Supreme Court, who’s held various other judicial appointments and appointments including with the International Labour Organisation and to the United Nations
Chris Kourakis QC, the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia
John Rau, the former Attorney General for South Australia
Geoff Eames QC, former Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria
Peter McCusker, formerly a Judge in the Workers Compensation Tribunal and Industrial Court
Clive Kitchin AM, formerly a Magistrate
Paul Heywood-Smith QC
Lindy Powell QC
Andrew Collett AM, Barrister
Emma Thornton, Commissioner of the Fair Work Commission
In the 1990s, Johnston Withers Lawyers (through former director and now special counsel Richard Bradshaw) along with Paul Heywood-Smith QC (at the time junior counsel and, prior to that, one of the Johnston Withers Lawyers’ directors) acted in a highly influential and long-running defamation case: Chakravarti v Advertiser Newspapers Ltd.
The 2015 Supreme Court of South Australia case of Duffy v Google Inc. and the 2017 Full Court Appeal are well known amongst defamation lawyers throughout Australia as highly significant decisions. They determined that Google and other search engines can be liable as secondary publishers of defamatory material authored and/or posted by others where search results reproduce such material.