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Qld's Chief Justice on harassment complaints: My door is open

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Allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon have been met with a strong response from the first woman to become Queensland’s top judge

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Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC, who took charge of the Supreme Court five years ago, said she did not believe sexual harassment was a cultural problem in Queensland legal circles.

However, Holmes expressed concern that complaints about inappropriate behaviour might not have been made, supported and dealt with appropriately in the past.

“I don’t think it’s any part of the culture in legal circles that male practitioners or judges sexually harass anyone,” Holmes told InQueensland.

“But in the rare event it happens, I think there is a cultural barrier to doing anything about it. That’s the problem.”

Her comments came after High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel revealed an independent inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against Heydon had found the complaints of six women who worked as judges’ associates had been “borne out”.

Heydon, who served on the bench for a decade until 2013, has denied allegations of predatory behaviour but now faces civil and possible criminal action.

In an interview with InQueensland for an upcoming article, Holmes said the state’s higher courts had good mechanisms in place to handle such complaints and any victims would “absolutely” be supported.

“I would certainly urge anybody who has any problem they want to raise to feel confident they can raise it with me, or the Senior Judge Administrator, or the President of the Court of Appeal,” Holmes said.

“We are all open to hearing of any issues.”

Holmes said the courts and relevant legal associations and bodies had issued clear position statements, policies and processes to help address any power imbalance that might lead to inaction on sexual harassment. The manual for judges’ associates had also been rewritten to provide more clarity.

“But it is not a complete solution because it is just difficult if this is your career,” Holmes said, adding that she could understand why some victims might not have come forward.

While not commenting on her own experiences, Holmes was adamant that anyone with complaints should raise them in the knowledge that they would be handled appropriately.

“I am really serious about that,” Holmes said.

“I don’t want there to be anybody who feels they can’t come to me and I think that would have been the worst thing for the High Court knowing that those kids didn’t feel that they could complain. I think that’s terrible.”

Holmes as admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in 1982, a barrister in 1984, worked as a Commonwealth Crown Prosecutor and in 1999 was appointed Senior Counsel and then acting judge of the District Court.

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