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Principal lawyer with sexual harassment complaint barred from practising

A boutique firm principal who subjected an employee to “relentless” sexual harassment has been refused a 2024 practising certificate.

user iconNaomi Neilson 09 July 2024 Big Law
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Owen Maldwyn Hughes, formerly of Bangalow-based Beesley and Hughes, has been refused a practising certificate for the year ending 30 June 2024, according to the Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner’s (OLSC) register of disciplinary action.

In its reasons for refusing to grant the practising certificate, the NSW Law Society said Hughes failed to disclose a sexual harassment complaint made to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and findings of two federal courts in his renewal application.

The Law Society considered findings and a reprimand made in November 2021 that Hughes engaged in sexual harassment, workplace bullying, inappropriate or threatening conduct, and improper use of privileged information against a victim.

 
 

An April 2023 determination he was not a fit and proper person to hold a practising certificate was also taken into account.

In both the Federal Circuit Court in May 2019 and the Federal Court in July 2020, Hughes was found to have “unequivocally” engaged in conduct “the law of sexual harassment seeks to eliminate”.

The sexual harassment, including a “bombardment of emails”, forcing the woman to hug him, “veiled threats” her employment relied on her entering a sexual or romantic relationship, and appearing in her bedroom during a work trip in just his underwear.

The Federal Court found the power imbalance between Hughes and the victim was “mind-boggling”.

“The respondent is a solicitor who not only should know the law but should conduct himself in a very high standard befitting of this position in society,” the court found at the time.

The conduct was found to be “relentless”.

Hughes’ firm was ordered to pay the victim $120,000 in general damages and $50,000 in aggravated damages.

Additional reasons for refusing the practising certificate renewal included “misleading” declarations by Hughes in 2017 and 2018 practising certificate applications, trust account irregularities, failure to comply with an undertaking, failure to comply with a management system direction, and a 2020 bankruptcy.