Three former High Court associates have announced plans to sue former justice Dyson Heydon and the Commonwealth for compensation, after an independent investigation found their complaints of sexual harassment were valid.
- Maurice Blackburn lawyers, who represents three of the women, say they will seek compensation on behalf of the former associates
- Former judge Dyson Heydon has denied allegations made against him of sexual harassment
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the allegations against Mr Heydon are “very disturbing” and “incredibly serious”
An independent investigation commissioned by the High Court, referred to yesterday in a statement released by the Chief Justice, found six former court staff members were harassed by Dyson Heydon, claims which have been categorically denied by the former justice.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Josh Bornstein, who is representing the three women seeking compensation, said the alleged harassment had caused significant harm to his clients.
Mr Bornstein said the women were too scared to make complaints about Mr Heydon’s alleged behaviour at the time of the alleged conduct.
“They were the best and brightest out of law school. This was their first job in the legal profession, working for one of the most powerful men. They were in the early 20s, he was in his late 60s. In all three cases, they’ve abandoned the law,” he said.
In a statement released yesterday, High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said the findings were of “extreme concern” and that the women’s accounts “have been believed”.
“We have moved to do all we can to make sure the experiences of these women will not be repeated,” Chief Justice Kiefel said.
The ABC has repeatedly tried to contact Mr Heydon’s lawyers, but no response has been offered.
In a statement provided to the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Heydon, via his lawyers, denied “emphatically 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,” a statement from his lawyers said.
“Our client says that if any conduct of his has caused offence, that result was inadvertent and unintended, and he apologises for any offence caused.
“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 on the High Court bench between 2003 and 2013.
According to the Chief Justice’s statement, the High Court was made aware of the allegations in March last year. Five of the people who made complaints had worked for Mr Heydon.
Former ACT Law Society president alleges harassment at university ball
A former ACT Law Society president Noor Blumer said an incident with Mr Heydon at the University of Canberra Law School ball in 2013, left her “upset and disgusted.”
In a contemporaneous note made at the time, Ms Blumer said she was seated next to Mr Heydon who was the guest speaker.
Her note recorded that she was dumfounded when Mr Heydon told her she was the sexiest woman he had ever met in his entire life.
“I didn’t feel that I had done anything to bring it on … I had not been attempting to flirt with him in any way,” she told the ABC.
Ms Blumer said Mr Heydon then touched her leg.
Ms Blumer said she contacted the university, but turned down their offer to take formal action on her behalf, saying she would deal with it through her own circles.
The university has confirmed this account.
In a statement to the ABC, the University of Canberra said another student at the ball also complained about “inappropriate behaviour” by Mr Heydon.
“Senior faculty staff then supported the student to ensure that their wellbeing was prioritised.
“The student indicated that they did not intend to make a formal complaint and would prefer to remain anonymous. The university respected this decision.
“The student received ongoing counselling and support.”
Prime Minister says allegations are ‘disturbing’
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten argued this morning that Mr Heydon should be stripped of his Companion of the Order of Australia honour (AC) in light of the allegations.
His successor, Anthony Albanese said today should be about paying tribute to the bravery of women who came forward to make the allegations, rather than focusing on the honours award.
“No doubt there will be further consequences of this action,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the allegations against Mr Heydon “incredibly serious”.
“Allegations of this sort are obviously very disturbing and very concerning,” he said.
But Mr Morrison said it was too early for discussions about stripping the former judge of his AC.
“People’s awards and honours, if those processes end in a place where people have, where those allegations have been upheld, then there’s a normal process for honours to be dealt with at that time,” he said.
“It’s not appropriate to presuppose those processes, that’s not the way these things should be handled.
“There should be a proper process to deal with this. There will be.”
Protocol dictates that when the Governor-General receives requests to terminate or cancel an award, it is passed onto the Council of the Order of Australia.
When the council makes a recommendation, it does so directly to the Governor-General, who acts upon that advice independent of the Government.