Topics:  court, james ashby, peter slipper, politics, sexual harassment

Slipper to face Ashby

Former Speaker Peter Slipper.
Former Speaker Peter Slipper. Warren Lynam

UPDATE: For the first time in the Peter Slipper lawsuit saga, the sidelined Speaker will be forced to face his former staffer James Ashby in a behind-closed-doors showdown at Sydney's Federal Court today.

Justice Steven Rares yesterday (02/10) ordered the pair into forced mediation.

The visibly frustrated Sydney judge had expected to hear part two of an abuse of process claim, brought against Mr Ashby by Mr Slipper, but the Speaker failed to turn up.

His lawyers had argued Mr Ashby and his legal team had conspired to harm the Speaker's reputation.

The Speaker however sacked his lawyers last week and late Monday - a public holiday - he emailed the court to say he would be unable to attend the following morning.

Justice Rares described Mr Slipper's actions as a "completely outrageous piece of behaviour by someone who should know better" and a "gross discourtesy to the court".

Barrister Michael Lee, for Ashby, called for the hearing to go ahead in Mr Slipper's absence.

He said his client had been "more demonised than Linda Blair in The Exorcist" and both he and his legal team were "entitled to be vindicated".

He also claimed comments made in the media by Federal Attorney General Nicola Roxon "undermined the legitimate public confidence in the judiciary" and should be considered as a reason for the hearing to continue.

Ms Roxon's comments followed last week's announcement that Mr Ashby and the Commonwealth had reached a $50,000 settlement over claims the Federal Government failed to provide a safe working environment.

But that settlement sparked another legal argument in court yesterday (02/10) and could not be finalised as expected.

Mr Lee said the Commonwealth had requested Mr Ashby sign a deed acknowledging the Federal Government did not have ongoing liability after the deal was struck.

He and Commonwealth Barrister Julian Burnside spent more than an hour and a half in a back room but could not agree on what Mr Burnside described as a "quite narrow grounds".

Justice Rares ordered the Commonwealth to take part in today's mediation which has been set down to resolve all the outstanding issues between the three parties including Mr Ashby's claims he was sexually harassed by the Speaker.

He said "something has to happen" and the time had come to "knock people's heads together".

Both Mr Slipper and Mr Ashby are required to appear in person at the mediation which will be heard before a registrar from 9.30am.

If the mediation fails, the case will return to the Federal Court.



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