The former parliamentary speaker, Peter Slipper, has taken the extraordinary step of making a costs application against the solicitors of the man who brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
Mr Slipper applied to the Federal Court on Wednesday for Harmers Workplace Lawyers and James Ashby, the staffer who accused him of sexual harassment, to pay for the costs of his legal proceedings on an indemnity basis.
The costs awarded by the Federal Court usually amount to between 50 and 70 per cent of the actual proceedings, but costs awarded on an indemnity basis cover the whole cost, and are considered a punitive measure.
Michael Harmer. ... represented James Ashby.
It would be rare for the Federal Court to award costs on an indemnity basis, but some lawyers read the judgment handed down by Justice Steve Rares last week as a coded suggestion for Mr Slipper to seek unusual orders.
Justice Rares pointed out that the Federal Court was given the discretion to make costs orders if the action was brought "vexatiously or without reasonable cause".
"Mr Ashby instituted the proceedings without reasonable cause because they were and are an abuse of the process of the court," Justice Rares said.
Claiming costs ... Peter Slipper. Photo: Mick Tsikas
"Additionally, his unreasonable acts of instituting and prosecuting the proceedings caused Mr Slipper to incur costs for the same reason.
"Mr Ashby should be ordered to pay Mr Slipper's costs of the proceedings."
In the last line of the judgment, Justice Rares added: "If any special order for costs is sought in consequence of the orders I will make today, either party may apply within seven days."
James Ashby .. .accused Peter Slipper of sexual harassment. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Seeking costs against a solicitor is an exceptional event, but Mr Rares was scathing in his assessment of Michael Harmer, who acted for Mr Ashby.
He accused him of bringing "scandalous and irrelevant" allegations before the court and abusing his privilege as a lawyer.
"A lawyer cannot open a case in court by making statements that may have ruinous consequences to the person attacked that the lawyer cannot substantiate or justify by evidence," Mr Rares said.
Mr Harmer has indicated his intention to appeal the judgment.