A damning investigation commissioned by the High Court of Australia has upheld multiple allegations of sexual harassment against former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon.
The investigation report, based on the accounts of many witnesses, has upheld allegations of sexual harassment perpetrated by Mr Heydon towards six young female associates who worked for him during his tenure at the High Court between 2003 and 2013. The investigation was conducted by Dr Vivienne Thom AM.
Maurice Blackburn is representing three of the women, including Rachael Collins and Chelsea Tabart, whose allegations of sexual harassment were upheld.
The investigation was prompted after Josh Bornstein, Principal lawyer with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, wrote to the Chief Justice and the Chief Executive of the Court in March 2019 notifying them of complaints of sexual harassment against Mr Heydon, as well as raising concerns about inadequate procedures within the High Court for addressing judicial misconduct.
Mr Bornstein said the investigation had unveiled a pattern of predatory behaviour and sexual harassment over many years by Mr Heydon towards young female associates he employed and highlighted a gap in both addressing judicial misconduct and protecting their employees from that misconduct.
“At the time that this sexual harassment occurred, Dyson Heydon was in his 60s, a conservative judge, a prominent Catholic and a married man,” Mr Bornstein said.
“The women he employed were in their early 20s and often straight out of university. He was one of the most powerful men in the country, who could make or break their future careers in the law.
“There was an extreme power imbalance between Mr Heydon and the young women he preyed on. The fear of his power and influence meant that the women did not feel able to come forward until recently,” Mr Bornstein said.
Mr Bornstein paid tribute to the women who pursued their allegations and the other witnesses who were also interviewed as part of the investigation.
“I know from dealings with my clients how traumatic these experiences were and how much courage it has taken to break their silence about this scandal,” Mr Bornstein said.
“A number of these women abandoned their plans for a legal career after their experience of being sexually harassed by Dyson Heydon.
“The report makes clear that Dyson Heydon sexually harassed each of the women who made a complaint, and that the allegations of six women at different times demonstrated a pattern of predatory and harassing behaviour.
“The investigation also found that the associates employed by the High Court were largely on their own in trying to protect themselves and manage Mr Heydon’s behaviour.
“The Court did not have a clear procedure which permitted a complaint of mistreatment by a judge to be aired.
“As a result, outgoing female associates felt a duty to try and warn incoming female associates of Mr Heydon’s behaviour and to give advice about how to try and protect themselves.
Mr Bornstein also commended the High Court for its response to the complaints.
“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,” Mr Bornstein said.
“The Court has acknowledged the truth of what happened, the failures of the past and the Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel, has personally apologised to the women. 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,” he said.