Former high court judge Dyson Heydon resigns as member of the Order of Australia

<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Former high court judge Dyson Heydon has handed back one of Australia’s highest honours, surrendering his status as a Companion of the Order of Australia, Guardian Australia can reveal.

Heydon’s decision to relinquish an honour granted to those deemed to have gone above and beyond in their service to the nation, was announced in the government gazette released on Friday.

“It is notified for general information that the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia has accepted the resignation as a member of the Order of Australia in the General Division with effect from 14 October 2022 of: The Honourable John Dyson Heydon to cease to be appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.”

Heydon maintains his Honourable title, although he has allowed his legal practicing licence to lapse.

A spokesperson for the Council of the Order of Australia said they did not comment on individual cases.

“Speaking generally, the process and background around the cancellation or termination of awards and appointments or resignations from the Order are outlined in the Constitution of the Order of Australia,” the spokesperson said.

“The Council for the Order of Australia investigates matters brought to its attention and considers each case individually [but does not comment on individual cases].”

Under the constitution of the order, the governor-general has the power to terminate an appointment, or cancel an award, for a variety of reasons, including “if, in the opinion of the Governor-General, the holder of the appointment or award has behaved or acted in a manner that has brought disrepute on the Order”.

If a decision is made to terminate the honour, the recipient is given 30 days to respond.

In 2020 Heydon was found by an independent investigation to have sexually harassed six junior court staff. Three of the women reached a “historic” settlement with the Commonwealth in February this year. Heydon has always denied the allegations.

Calls for Heydon to be stripped of his membership of the Order of Australia, to which he was admitted in 2004 for his services to the law, began after the sexual harassment claims were verified, but the former justice maintained the honour, with the right to be referred to as “Dyson Heydon AC”.

Only 35 people a year are appointed as Companions of the Order, the highest category above Officer (AO) and Member (AM). Other forms of service are recognised by the medal of the Order (OAM).

Comment was sought from Heydon via Speed and Stracey Lawyers, which has previously represented him.

Heydon was appointed to the high court by the Howard government in 2003, spending 10 years on the bench, retiring in 2013 when he reached the mandatory age of 70.

He was later appointed to lead the Abbott government’s trade union royal commission and came under fire for agreeing to speak at a Liberal party fundraiser while serving as the commissioner.

Allegations were made against Heydon in 2019, sparking an inquiry led by the former inspector-general of intelligence and security Dr Vivienne Thom, which found six former judges’ associates had been harassed by Heydon.