He was accused of political bias after he accepted an invitation in 2015 to speak at a Liberal party fundraiser while in the role, a charge he rejected.
As a young man, Heydon was groomed for the law. His father Sir Peter Heydon was a distinguished diplomat and top public servant who had served as private secretary to Prime Minister Robert Menzies.
Growing up, there “was a legal atmosphere in the house”, he said. He studied Arts/Law at Sydney University, majoring in history, for which he won the University Medal. In 1964 he won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, and then took up a teaching post there.
At 30, he was made professor of law at Sydney University, the youngest ever to have achieved that post. He was admitted to the NSW bar in 1973 and appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1987.
In 1978, aged 34, he served a year as dean of the University Law School.
In 2000, he was appointed to the NSW Court of Appeal and in 2003 Prime Minister John Howard appointed him to the High Court.
Mr Heydon, a particular expert in Evidence, Property and Trusts, wrote his judgments long-hand and famously did not read his own emails – instead having them printed out for him to read.
He is a committed Catholic who has spoken deridingly of the “modern elites” who “do not feel any gratitude to Almighty God for their entitlements and rights”.
In his later years on the High Court, Heydon had a high rate of dissent from his other judges.
Even when he agreed with his fellow judges, he would often write his own judgments.
“They don’t write grammatically as I understand Anglo-Australian grammar,” he complained of his colleagues.
“There are some forms of expression that I cannot bring myself knowingly to adopt.”
Mr Heydon’s legal purism was just as strict.
In a case involving a husband’s rape of his wife in the 1960s, Heydon held a minority view that the man should not be prosecuted.
“No one in 1962 thought rape was a crime … it’s a fundamental principle that not even parliament should enact criminal laws which are retrospective,” he said.
Following his retirement in 2013 at the mandated age of 70, Mr Heydon contacted Oxford University to express his interest in a Visiting Professorship.
Freedom of Information documents show the university was “delighted” to appoint him for a three-year post from 2013.
But in 2014, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed Mr Heydon head of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
Mr Heydon had known the Prime Minister as a student and was a member of the panel that awarded the young Mr Abbott his own Rhodes scholarship in 1980. In 1993 it was reported Mr Heydon, a monarchist, had been legal adviser to Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, headed by Mr Abbott.
The Unions Royal Commission was dogged with accusations of political bias from its inception. That came to a head in April 2015, when it was revealed Mr Heydon had accepted an invitation to deliver the 6th Sir Garfield Barwick Address, a Liberal party fundraiser.
He said he had “overlooked” the political aspect of the event and withdrew from the engagement.
Several unions made applications in the Commission for Heydon to step down. As Commissioner, he heard the applications and dismissed them. He handed down his final report in late 2015.
Mr Heydon returned to the Sydney bar, where he has chambers on Phillip Street, next to the Supreme Court.
In a 2017 speech to the Australian Catholic University he spoke of the “contrast between the painful environment of past ages and the gluttonous and sensual milieu of the present”, arguing “indifference based on rising wealth is insidiously damaging to religion”.
“As the world we are in becomes more attractive, the less need is there for contemplating the possibility of some other more perfect world and the less adherence there is to a strict morality.”
In the same speech, he lamented a “massive change in courtesy, civility and mutual respect” over previous decades.
Statement from Dyson Heydon’s lawyers:
In respect of the confidential inquiry and its subsequent confidential report, any allegation of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law is categorically denied by our client.
The inquiry was an internal administrative inquiry and was conducted by a public servant and not by a lawyer, judge or a tribunal member. It was conducted without having statutory powers of investigation and of administering affirmations or oaths.
The inquiry did not afford any opportunity for representatives of the person complained of to confront those complaining or to cross-examine them.
Our client says that if any conduct of his has caused offence, that result was inadvertent and unintended, and he apologises for any offence caused. We have asked the High Court to convey that directly to the Associate complainants.
As to the balance of your claims our client denies emphatically any allegation of sexual harassment or any offence.
Jacqueline Maley is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2017 she won the Peter Ruehl Award for Outstanding Columnist at the Kennedy Awards
Kate McClymont is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.