JAMES ASHBY and his lawyers have been questioned by a judge for alleging in a blaze of publicity that Peter Slipper misused Cabcharge vouchers, only to drop the claim before the matter came to court.
Yesterday, Federal Court Justice Steven Rares said it was ''very, very troubling'' and a ''matter of great concern'' the sexual harassment case originally filed by the former staffer also contained allegations of criminality, which were ultimately not pressed.
Justice Rares's comments came during the hearing of the abuse of process case brought by Mr Slipper, which continued after a nine-hour mediation on Wednesday failed to broker a deal between the Speaker and his former media adviser.
Mr Slipper, who has a law degree but admitted he had not practised at the bar for a long time, represented himself. He told the court he had tried but failed to find a lawyer to act for him, although he did get legal advice for the mediation.
He asked that the sexual harassment case be dismissed in light of the settlement between the Commonwealth and Mr Ashby, in which the government would pay $50,000 and implement bullying and sexual harassment training for MPs.
''This case … has been quite debilitating in a financial sense across the board and also has consumed much of Your Honour's time and also of the time of the parties,'' he said.
Under rules on MPs' entitlements, only ministers and parliamentary secretaries have their legal fees paid by the government.
Justice Rares said despite the government and Mr Ashby finally agreeing on terms, he could not simply dismiss the case against Mr Slipper.
''I can't do that because there is a claim against you that you sexually harassed Mr Ashby and that is at the moment unresolved,'' he said. ''You are locked in.''
Mr Slipper apologised for showing ''discourtesy'' to the court for failing to show up, either in person or via a lawyer, on Tuesday, saying this had occurred ''inadvertently''. He also apologised for entering the private secure car park of the Federal Court building in a government car, which allowed him to avoid the waiting media.
In his originating application, filed in April, Mr Ashby claimed the terms of his employment contract were breached because he was involved ''in questionable conduct in relation to travel''.
Mr Ashby said in January 2012, he and Mr Slipper were picked up by the Speaker's ''friend'', who was given three blank Cabcharges in return. This occurred twice more in February, Mr Ashby claimed.
But the claims were withdrawn after the Australian Federal Police launched an investigation, which could still result in criminal charges against Mr Slipper.
Mr Ashby's lawyers said the criminal allegations were dropped from the civil claim to avoid delay in hearing the sexual harassment case.
But Justice Rares said he had ''a concern about the use of the court process''. He said the allegations of criminality ''inflamed the matter'' and ''I would have thought was calculated to put people's backs up''.
The hearing continues today.