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

Slipper adamant Ashby's legal team should foot court costs

FORMER parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper has called for the legal team who brought a failed sexual harassment case against him to foot the damages bill.

A costs application against the Harmers Workplace Lawyers and their client, Mr Slipper's former staffer James Ashby, was tendered in the NSW Federal Court yesterday (on Wednesday) and a hearing date set down for Friday.

APN Newsdesk understands that while applications for costs against an unsuccessful complainant are common, it is unusual for an application to be made against a law firm.

It has been suggested the scathing remarks made by Justice Steven Rares in the Federal Court last week may have encouraged Mr Slipper to take the rare step.

In throwing out the sexual harassment case as an abuse of process, Justice Rares said the court action had been brought "vexatiously and without reasonable cause".

He said a lawyer "cannot open a case in court by making statements that may have ruinous consequences to the person attacked and that the lawyer cannot substantiate or justify by evidence".

It is also unlikely Mr Ashby, who was awarded $50,000 in a settlement with the Commonwealth earlier in the proceedings, would be able to come up with the necessary funds.

His solicitor, Lee Harmer, has already indicated he will be appealing Justice Rare's judgement.

The revelation Mr Slipper was taking the law firm back to court came as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott came under fire for admitting he had not read the judgment.

Despite the admission Mr Abbott continued to stand by Mal Brough, the Liberal National Party's candidate for Fisher, whose name appears 100 times in Justice Rares' 76-page decision.

Mr Abbott told ABC TV from London he was confident Mr Brough had "acted rightly at all times".

"Mal is a friend of mine. Mal was a colleague of mine. I look forward to having Mal as a colleague of mine again," Mr Abbott said.

Asked why he had not read the judgment Mr Abbott said he was busy doing "very important things for the people of Australia here in this country right now".

The government was quick to swoop on Mr Abbott's moment of candour, which Attorney-General Nicola described as "staggering".

"Mr Abbott was very quick out of the block when these allegations were first aired," Ms Roxon said.

"He demanded Mr Slipper's scalp before the court case had even started.

"Now that the Liberal Party, and Mr Brough in particular, have been roundly criticised by the Federal Court, I think it's astounding that Mr Abbott hasn't taken the time to read this decision."

Trade Minister Craig Emerson was also scathing, describing Mr Abbott as a "policy weakling".

He said Mr Abbott had form when it came to not reading documents.

Earlier in the year Mr Abbott tried to blame the carbon tax for BHP's decision to shelve the Olympic Dam project.

During a television interview he was forced to admit he had not read BHP's statement, which made no reference to the carbon tax.

"It is clear that Mr Abbott doesn't read documents that are essential for the discharge of his duties as Leader of the Opposition, alternative prime minister of Australia," Mr Emerson said.

"This is a disgrace and Mr Abbott now must read this document and, on the basis of the document, disendorse Mr Brough … as the LNP candidate for the seat of Fisher."

The LNP is standing by Mr Brough despite government calls for him to be sacked.