Former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon is facing shocking allegations of sexual harassment. Liam Cox and Peter Wilkinson dissect the three key communications aspects of the disturbing case:
– How do the alleged victims handle the media spotlight and rumour mill?
– How should Heydon respond if he’s guilty or not guilty?
– How should the legal fraternity respond and ensure this never happens again, if the allegations are proven to be correct?
An independent high court inquiry has accused former high court judge Dyson Heydon of sexually harassing six young women. Peter Wilkinson, a disturbing expo by Kate McClymont in the Herald. Firstly, our thoughts are with the alleged victims. They’re in a dreadful situation, aren’t they?
They certainly are because what happens? There’s going to be a lot of media activity around this and a lot of chit-chat around the law courts, where rumours spread like wildfire all the time. In that situation, there’s going to be rumours and media activity regardless of what the women do. They are in the invidious position where they really need to continue to speak or at least have a statement that defines them because, without that, rumour and innuendo is going to fill the space. “Nature hates a vacuum,” is the saying, and that’s the situation here. Kate McClymont, I’m pretty certain will have counselled the women on this, so huge credit to the women for speaking out.
Very brave to come forward. Now, as a high court judge, Heydon was meant to be a man of the highest moral standing, beyond reproach. Yet, it’s alleged he hid behind the wig and gown for years. Allegedly, it was an open secret. What does this say about the legal profession?
Where things are hidden, bad things happen. It seems to be the nature of society. The issue of transparency and the judiciary has been a conversation that’s gone on for decades. The problem we’ve got in Australia is there’s a propensity for judges to hide behind their position, and for barristers, for that matter. I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, I said to a barrister… We were having a conversation about the wig and the gown on the way to court. I said, “Why do you bother? Because you’ve already got the status of the position.” He popped up a little bit, and he said, “Because it gives us authority.” The trouble is it might make a bad person appear slightly less bad, but it doesn’t make a good person look better. It’s a huge discredit to the legal fraternity if it’s true if this was hidden for so long.
What does the legal profession need to do to ensure that this never happens again?
Well, the first thing the legal profession has to do is, itself, apologize and agree that something is seriously wrong that this was, if it’s true, common knowledge throughout the legal profession for many, many years. Once they’ve done that, they can begin a process of repairing it. It’s certainly going to involve whistleblowing protections, transparency and a very clearly understood code of conduct, and a culture change. The culture change is going to be the hard thing to manage here. In order to create a culture change, whether it’s in the legal courts or in hospitals with specialists who are too arrogant or wherever it’s occurring, there’s a long process. Some of it’s a generational change. It needs a strong code of conduct, constantly enforced, championed by a number of people to drive it through.
Heydon’s issued a stipend through his lawyers. What have you made of that statement?
It was a Clayton’s apology. The lawyer, one phrase says, “Our client says that if any conduct of his has caused offence…” It’s the Harvey Weinstein apology. Here’s the difficulty I have with the hobby. The Harvey Weinstein affair started in October 2017. If this is true, Justice Heydon has had all that time to think about what happens when he gets exposed. The best he can do is put out this. He’s really got two options. If he’s innocent, he can either say nothing, or he can say a little bit, which is what is here, or he can come out really strongly and protest furiously about his innocence. Of those three choices, the middle one is the worst one. Saying nothing is an option.
He can keep his dignity and say the courts will deal with this, or he can come out and say, “This is an outrageous set of allegations. None of it occurred,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and keep saying it. Because eventually, some people or maybe a lot of people will believe you.
On the other hand, if he’s guilty, from now on, it’s going to be death by a thousand cuts because the media and the legal profession, the media rapidly, and the legal professions slowly, will crucify him. The advice his lawyers should be giving him is, apologize profusely and say, “What I have done is completely wrong.” It may be that that will impact on the court processes and how he’s dealt with by the courts. But his reputation, his family’s reputation, his children’s reputation, and his grandchildren’s reputation relies on what he does next.
Well, he can apologize until he’s blowing the face, but surely there’s no coming back from that.
Well, that’s true. There’s no coming back from being a paedophile. There’s no coming back from being a murder. There’s no coming back from being a Harvey Weinstein type fully, but you can come back partially. There’ll be some people who will forgive you. I mean, in a situation like that, you can’t unscramble the egg. With a genuine apology that is completely genuine and is enunciated in a way that people understand that it’s genuine, is that some people, maybe a large number of people, will forgive you over time.
Well, they are shocking allegations. The strength of the women involved to come forward needs to be commended. Again, our thoughts with them. Peter Wilkinson, thank you.
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