17 February 2009

NEWS - Legal eagles sued for 'bullying'

A Northern Territory Lawyer has won the right to have her harassment case heard in New South Wales because of the possibility of "a reasonable apprehension" of bias in the Territory.

Sarah Lunn alleges bullying by Alastair Shields, her former supervisor at the Justice Department and now acting executive director of policy in the Chief Minister's Department.

She also alleges that Sue Oliver, a former Justice Department employee and now a magistrate, and Richard Coates, former Justice Department chief executive and now Director of Public Prosecutions, failed to address her complaints and that her contract with the Justice Department was ended unfairly.

In June 2006, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission dismissed the department's claim that Ms Lunn's short-term contract had merely expired and, therefore, the commission had no power to decide the case.

Commissioner Dominica Whelan found the lawyer had been dismissed, opening the way for the harassment case to be taken to the Supreme Court.

Ms Lunn argued in the NSW Supreme Court that the Territory's legal profession was small and the case should not be held in the NT Supreme Court because of the "clear possibility - even probability - that there would be a reasonable apprehension of bias or embarrassment if the proceedings were heard in that court".

NSW Supreme Court judge John Hislop determined that findings critical of the court administration would almost certainly have to be made if Ms Lunn were to succeed in her harassment case - and that it was arguable that the judges of the Territory Supreme Court would have to decline to hear the case or should disqualify themselves.

A directions hearing will be held later this month.

Ms Lunn started as an articled clerk at the Justice Department after graduating from the Charles Darwin University Law School in 1998.

It is alleged that towards the end of a three-year contract, her relationship with Mr Shields deteriorated and each made allegations about the other's behaviour.

source : NT News 17/2/09

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