Heydon's Hayday in Court
Updated: Aug 4
I couldn't comprehend the gravity of the discovery of the recent sexual assault allegations concerning Justice Heydon. But when I first commenced my Law degree, I was much younger. More easily influenced and impossibly wide-eyed at the possibility of working under a respected Judge in the High Court of Australia. Perhaps what is most comforting, back then and even now is that I'm not the only Law student who held on to this dream. It's easy to understand why it's desirable, the hands-on experience you gain being next to a Judge, asking about their opinions on individual judgements and learning from their experience. I couldn't imagine anything more enthralling. Well (legally speaking). To put it bluntly, it's the fiduciary relationship dreams are made of.
The possibility of being graced with such a position, after the long nights of pouring over case notes, group study sessions and tutor enquiries renewed the excitement of such a dream. All of the nights and hours of continuous effort made me feel as though I had a long-standing goal to achieve. However, I am two years into my Psych and Law LLB, and the underbelly of problems that exist in the legal field brings a sobering reality to the profession and re-assessment of my fanciful goals and a fear of the end of one's career in the profession.
Two of the six women appointed to work for Justice Heydon did not anticipate also finding themselves in a similar situation after being assaulted. Their life's work and passion for helping others have been changed forever by a man of unimaginable power in our legal system. One of the survivors has detailed that she withheld speaking up about it initially because she was so aware of Justice Heydon's status in the profession. It added to the already substantial possibility that no-one would believe her.
After hearing the allegations of the survivors, while the legal system determines the burden of proof- the most significant burden future law students will carry with them is the possibility that an esteemed lawyer in a position of power will assault them. Regrettably, I have had a brush with the possibility of being taken advantage of in the legal profession. Earlier this year, I applied for a job with a well-known solicitor. Although I was not eligible because I am not a first-year law student, and hence rejected, my disappointment soon turned into sublime relief. Because I later found an article by USYD detailing that younger law students have accused the practitioner of making unwanted and inappropriate advances towards them.
There is no denying that the problem of sexual assault and unwanted advances in the profession is an ongoing issue. But what is the legal profession doing about it? What remedies and options do we have in place to protect those same, ambitious and dedicated law students from harm? The High Court of Australia has adopted three recommendations to better support future associates. These include; a review of induction processes, the establishment of a support person for associates and determining that it is not mandatory to accompany Justices to attend social functions. Adrienne Morton from Australian Women Lawyers has stated that these recommendations are not exclusive to the High Court of Australia. She affirmed that these changes would benefit any Court in the country, primarily if they are already in place.
Although the proceedings concerning former HC Justice Heydon are merely in their infancy, it is equally, if not arguably more problematic that these recommendations were not adopted sooner. We need to take more initiative to protect and prevent this from happening in the future.