The Full Bench of the Federal Court has overturned the 2012 decision by Justice Rares in the Peter Slipper sexual harassment case.
In upholding the appeal by James Ashby, the full bench, consisting of Justices John Mansfield and John Gilmour, said:
“We are satisfied that the evidence before the primary judge did not warrant the adverse finding said to constitute an abuse of the court’s process on the two bases found and did not warrant the rejection by his Honour of the sworn and unchallenged evidence of each of [James] Ashby and [Michael] Harmer.”
Ashby was awarded costs. This represents a severe financial imposition on Slipper.
The court rejected an appeal by solicitor Michael Harmer, who was criticised by Justice Rares over his conduct of the case, but also said:
“Nonetheless, we have concluded that the adverse findings in relation to his conduct, with their flow on affect upon Ashby, ought not to have been made.”
The decision means that Slipper is now likely to face trial on the sexual harassment claims. The abuse of process decision of Justice Rares has been overturned.
Slipper, the former LNP member for Fisher, became Speaker in November 2011 when the Gillard government sought to shore up its numbers in the House and Harry Jenkins stood down. He stood aside in April 2012 after the Ashby allegations surfaced. Slipper resigned as Speaker in October 2012, just hours after Gillard made her “misogyny speech” during a debate on Slipper’s conduct.