June 22, 2020 / 9:45 AM / 13 days ago

Australia's High Court says former judge sexually harassed six female staff

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A former High Court of Australia judge was found to have sexually harassed six female staff, the court said on Monday, one of the country’s most powerful figures to face such recriminations amid a global reset in workplace gender relations.

Dyson Heydon, who served on the country’s most powerful court from 2003 to 2013, was found to have harassed six former staff members, known as judges’ associates, the court said in a statement following an inquiry lasting several months.

A law firm named in local media as acting for Heydon, Speed & Stacey Lawyers, was not immediately available for comment. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper quoted the firm denying the allegations on Heydon’s behalf.

The court’s statement did not give details or the time of the incidents under scrutiny, but said it was told of “allegations of sexual harassment against a former justice” in 2019 and immediately ordered an independent investigation.

“The findings are of extreme concern to me, my fellow justices, our chief executive and the staff of the court,” the court’s chief judge, Susan Kiefel, said in the statement.

“We’re ashamed that this could have happened at the High Court of Australia,” Kiefel added.

In its statement denying the accusations quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald, Speed & Stacey also said Heydon apologised for any offence caused to the women.

“Any allegation of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law is categorically denied by our client,” the newspaper quoted the law firm as saying.

“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,” it added.

“We have asked the High Court to convey that directly to the associate complainants.”

The court also said it had apologised to the women. It did not mention taking any action against the former judge but said it had accepted six recommendations made by the inquiry, including to “make clear to associates that their duties do not extend to an obligation to attend social functions”.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Alex Richardson

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