Former High Court judge Dyson Heydon sexually harassed several female judge’s associates, an inquiry has revealed.
- Five of the female associates who made the allegations worked for Mr Heydon, while one worked for a different High Court judge
- Chief Justice Susan Kiefel says the findings are of “extreme concern” to all High Court staff
- The former justice denies that he sexually harassed female associates and apologises for any offence “inadvertently” caused
In a statement, the High Court said it was advised of the allegations, by six associates, last year.
Five of the associates who made the allegations worked for Mr Heydon, while one worked for a different High Court judge.
The investigation was undertaken by Dr Vivienne Thom, who used to serve as the Federal Government’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said the findings were of “extreme concern” to all of the current members of the High Court bench and the court’s staff.
“We have made a sincere apology to the six women whose complaints were borne out.
“We know it would have been difficult to come forward. Their accounts of their experiences at the time have been believed.”
Chief Justice Kiefel said she had spoken to several of the former judge’s associates and told them she “valued their insights and suggestions for change”.
She said the court had adopted recommendations from the inquiry.
A number of the women have requested confidentiality.
Former judge denies allegations, apologises for any offence caused
The ABC has tried to contact Mr Heydon for a response.
Lawyers for Mr Heydon told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers he emphatically denied “any allegation of sexual harassment or any offence.”
“In respect of the confidential inquiry and its subsequent confidential report, any allegation of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law is categorically denied by our client,” Mr Heydon’s lawyers told the newspapers.
“We have asked the High Court to convey that directly to the associate complainants.
“The inquiry was an internal administrative inquiry and was conducted by a public servant and not by a lawyer, judge or a tribunal member. It was conducted without having statutory powers of investigation and of administering affirmations or oaths.”
Mr Heydon was appointed to the High Court bench by the Howard Government in 2003, and served until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2013.
He was appointed by the Abbott Government to run the Federal Government’s royal commission into alleged corruption in the trade union movement in 2014.
Lawyers for women welcome the findings
Josh Bornstein from Maurice Blackburn lawyers represented three of the women, and paid tribute to them for coming forward.
He said he wrote to the High Court in March 2019.
“I know from dealings with my clients how traumatic these experiences were and how much courage it has taken to break their silence,” he said in a statement.
He said the High Court’s response to the allegations should be commended.
“While Dyson Heydon’s conduct casts a pall over the High Court, its response to this situation since we wrote to the court last year has been exemplary,” he said.
“The court has also implemented a range of reforms to improve the policies and procedures of the court to ensure young associates are not exposed like this again.”
High Court says it has ‘strengthened policies’ following allegations
Dr Thom, who conducted the inquiry, said her recommendations related to how staff interacted with members of the High Court bench.
Among the recommendations was that the court should make clear to associates the confidentiality requirements did not extend to social functions.
“There is no place for sexual harassment in any workplace.
“We have strengthened our policies and training to make clear the importance of a respectful workplace at the Court and we have made sure there is both support and confidential avenues for complaint if anything like this were to happen again.”
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the investigation was a matter for the High Court to deal with.
“The High Court is entirely independent of executive government which independence extends to the management and response to matters such as this,” Mr Porter said.
“I have been made aware as a courtesy by the court of the issue and how it is being managed.”