24 June 2020

This week we have seen shocking revelations about former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, who “was known as ‘Dirty Dyson’ and ‘Handsy Heydon’ due to his lecherous behaviour towards young women”, with credible complaints of sexual harrassment (and, perhaps, criminal assault) made against him by a number of students, staff, and lawyers. The allegations relate to his time as a judge, as well as during his post-judicial career as a guest speaker and lecturer. The High Court’s response has included a sincere apology as well as a review of HR procedures to ensure better oversight and complaints processes for staff. However, as Gabrielle Appleby argues, the inherent power of judges needs to be counterbalanced by stronger institutional reform: “[U]nlike, for instance, the legal or medical professions, or the public service, these avenues for accountability are not designed to provide an independent, standing institutional response when an individual has a professional complaint about the conduct of a judge — be that on or off the bench. A standing, independent complaints body with appropriate powers would ensure that there is a place for complaints to be received, the capacity to investigate them properly, and an independent body to impose penalties should misconduct be found.”