The sexual harassment case against former Speaker Peter Slipper has been thrown out of court.
In a scathing judgment, Federal Court Justice Steven Rares said the action by James Ashby had been taken "for the predominant purpose of causing political damage to Mr Slipper".
Justice Rares found that Mr Ashby had sued Mr Slipper to advance the interests of the Liberal National Party in Queensland and the interests of Mal Brough, who is contesting Mr Slipper’s Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher.
“I have reached the firm conclusion that Mr Ashby’s predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have,” the judge said.
“Mr Ashby began planning the attack at least by the beginning of February 2012.”
Justice Rares said he was satisfied the proceedings were an abuse of the process of court. Mr Ashby was ordered to pay costs.
“To allow these proceedings to remain in the court would bring the administration of justice into disrepute among right-thinking people and would be manifestly unfair to Mr Slipper,” Justice Rares said.
Mr Ashby’s claims against Mr Slipper included allegations that he was sent crude and lewd text messages and that Mr Slipper acted in a sexually suggestive manner with a view to cultivating an intimate relationship.
Other allegations include that Mr Slipper stroked Mr Ashby’s arm, moaned in a “sexual manner” when he gave him a massage, and showered with the door open.
Mr Slipper denied the claims.
The Commonwealth settled a case brought against it by Mr Ashby in September, paying him $50,000, and in the process dropped its claim that Mr Ashby’s case was an abuse of process.
At the time, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the case was settled to avoid a lengthy and expensive “lawyers’ picnic”. The Government had already spent $730,000 on the case.
Representing himself in court in October, Mr Slipper initially asked that the case against him be thrown out in light of the settlement between the Commonwealth and Mr Ashby.
At that hearing, Mr Slipper became visibly distraught as he described how he thought Mr Ashby was his friend until he took the claim against him.
“This case is seeking to hurt my political career, hurt me financially ... to destroy the government and in addition, to destroy my marriage,” Mr Slipper said then, adding he believed Mr Ashby had been “placed” in his office by his political enemies.
Those claims were dismissed as “baseless” by Mr Ashby’s lawyers.
Justice Rares was particularly scathing about Mr Ashby’s actions in claiming Mr Slipper had a sexual relationship with a male staffer in 2003.
“The 2003 allegations dealt with what was apparently consensual behaviour and included details that were intended to demean Mr Slipper for no legitimate forensic reason,” Justice Rares said.
“(There was) no sworn or affirmed evidence from anyone who could establish in 2003 Mr Slipper had sexually harassed his staff member.
“The 2003 allegations were irrelevant and scandalous.”
Mr Ashby’s originating application, filed in April, claimed Mr Slipper had also misused cab vouchers, but he later he abandoned those allegations.
“It would be one thing for Mr Ashby to have taken any genuine concerns he had privately to the police,” Justice Rares said.
“It was quite another to use a publicly available court pleading to announce Mr Ashby had the intention to do so...
“A party cannot be allowed to misuse the court’s process by including scandalous and damaging allegations, knowing that they would receive very significant media coverage, and then seek to regularise his or her pleadings by subsequently abandoning those claims.”Outside court, Mr Ashby said he was very disappointed with the judgment and indicated he was likely to appeal the decision.
“This has been a very harrowing time for me and my family, my friends and supporters,” he said.
He said that in the eight months since he filed his complaint against Mr Slipper, no evidence had been heard about his substantive complaint against Mr Slipper that he was sexually harassed.“There has been a determined campaign to try and prevent the substantive allegations being heard and judged in open court and to put me to the maximum cost in pursuing justice.”
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