news The beleagured head of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption has admitted he does not use a computer at either of his several offices and does not know how to send and receive emails, being completely dependent upon his personal assistant to do so.
72-year-old John Dyson Heydon is one of the most respected figures in Australia’s legal community. Heydon served as a Justice on Australia’s High Court from 2003 to 2013. The former justice has previously served as Dean of the Sydney Law School and graduated from the University of Sydney and the University of Oxford (attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar). He is currently serving as Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
However, despite his extensive qualifications and legal experience — and despite the fact that much of today’s legal documentation is accessed primarily through computer terminals — this morning Commissioner Heydon admitted he did not have a computer and did not know how to send emails.
This morning Heydon released his ruling relating to an application by the Australian Council of Trade Unions that he step down from his position due to perceptions of bias from his plans to give a legal speech that would also serve as a Liberal Party fundraiser. In his reasons for denying the application, Commissioner Heydon noted that he could not have taken certain actions due to his lack of technical knowledge.
“At the outset, it should be noted that there is evidence that I have no computer and that all email correspondence is sent and received by my personal assistant,” Heydon wrote. “Indeed it is notorious among the legal profession that I am incapable of sending or receiving emails. The consequence is that I read emails only after they have been printed out for me.”
Heydon noted that he did not have a computer either at his own chambers, or at the facilities of the Royal Commission.
“The ‘doctoring’ question arose out of a misunderstanding,” Heydon wrote in relation to one issue regarding certain email correspondence. “The misunderstanding has now been cleared up by those who are familiar with emails – a class of which I am not a member.”
“… if anyone altered the email, it was not me – an inevitable and completely proper concession in view of my complete incapacity to do any such thing,” he noted.
Delimiter does not allege that Heydon’s inability to send or receive emails has any bearing on his work, either with the Commission or previously in his judicial roles.
However, in his role at the High Court, Heydon did previously make judgements — as part of a wider bench — on technology-related cases. For example, Heydon was one of the justices who ruled on (PDF) the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s lawsuit against Google regarding sponsored links on Google’s search engine.
It appears that news of Heydon’s lack of technical understanding regarding computers and email was first highlighted by Crikey journalist Josh Taylor on Twitter. Taylor also first highlighted the Google case.
In my opinion, Heydon should take the time to get to understand the email platform and computers in general, with particular reference to the Internet. I don’t believe age to be a significant barrier to accessing technology, and certainly not in this case. Heydon is one of the best and most experienced minds in Australia’s legal community. A deeper understanding of technology would aid him in his work.
Aside from anything else, I would not personally want to be wholly dependent upon anyone else — as Heydon clearly is upon his personal assistant — for access to fundamental communications.
Then too, it’s not as though email is a new technology. It’s been popular for at least 20 years, meaning that Heydon would only have been in his early 50’s when it started popping up all around him. One does wonder how precisely he has managed to avoid gaining knowledge of it for two decades now.
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