Dyson Heydon: Inquiry finds top Australian ex-judge harassed women

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Dyson Heydon (archive image)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Dyson Heydon's lawyers deny "any allegation of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law"

An independent inquiry commissioned by Australia's High Court has found that one of its former judges, Dyson Heydon, sexually harassed six staff members.

The country's top court apologised to the six women, saying it had been told of the allegations in 2019.

High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said recommendations from the inquiry had been adopted.

Lawyers for Mr Heydon, who retired in 2013, have "categorically" denied the allegations to Australian media.

They stressed that the investigation was an "internal administrative inquiry... conducted without having statutory powers of investigation".

Mr Heydon joined the High Court as a judge in 2003.

What did the court say?

Its investigation was carried out by Dr Vivienne Thom, a former inspector-general of intelligence and security for Australia's federal government.

Commenting on its findings, Chief Justice Kiefel said: "We are ashamed that this could have happened at the High Court of Australia."

The findings were of "extreme concern" to all current members of the bench and their staff, she said.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The High Court said it was "ashamed" of what the investigation had found

"We have made a sincere apology to the six women whose complaints were borne out," she added. "We know it would have been difficult to come forward. Their accounts of their experiences at the time have been believed."

"Its response to this situation since we wrote to the court last year has been exemplary," lawyer Josh Bornstein 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."

What were the allegations?

Details of the report's findings were not released by the High Court but, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, the investigation found evidence which "demonstrates a tendency by Mr Heydon to engage in a pattern of conduct of sexual harassment".

One of Mr Heydon's former associates, Rachael Patterson Collins, told the paper his "actions had real and terrible consequences" which had led her to abandon her plans to become a barrister.

Chelsea Tabart, another former associate, said she too had left the law because "the culture was broken from the top down". She felt, the paper said, that she would not be safe "from powerful men like Mr Heydon even if I reported them".

One unnamed current judge is quoted as saying Mr Heydon "slid his hand between her thighs at a professional law dinner".

"He indecently assaulted me," she told the paper. "I have no doubt it was a crime and he knew I was not consenting."

Through his lawyers, Mr Heydon denied "emphatically any allegation of sexual harassment or any offence".

Who is Dyson Heydon?

Now aged 77, he was appointed to the High Court bench in 2003 and served until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2013.

In 2014, he was appointed to run the federal government's royal commission into alleged corruption in the trade union movement.

His lawyers said: "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."

"Our client," they added, "says that if any conduct of his has caused offence, that result was inadvertent and unintended, and he apologises for any offence caused."