Widow and ex battle it out over judge’s $6m estate


The widow of a former Cairns District Court judge is trying to strike out a court claim by the late judge's ex-wife for a share of his $6 million estate.

Therese Ryan, who was married for five years to Brian Harrison, who later became a judge, claims in a court affidavit he was extremely violent and abusive towards her.

Ms Ryan, a former barrister, who was divorced from Harrison in 1993, claims he assaulted her and deliberately set fire to their Rockhampton home.

Harrison died in October, last year, aged 69, leaving most of his $6 million estate to his third wife, Rampai Kumkuang, his former carer and housekeeper whom he married in 2018.

In July - 27 years after the divorce- Ms Ryan filed an application for further provision for proper maintenance and support, out of the late judge's estate.

Ms Ryan, who is on a disability pension, said she was seeking $2.36 million.

Rebecca Treston, QC, for the estate, told the Supreme Court Ms Ryan was not entitled, as a former spouse, to any provision from the estate.

Ms Ryan said in her affidavit she and Harrison, then a barrister, were in a de facto relationship from 1987, they married in 1988 and later had a daughter. She never remarried.

"After our marriage … the deceased became very controlling and abusive on all levels; financially, emotionally, psychologically and physically," Ms Ryan said in the affidavit.

"This was my first experience with domestic violence and it devastated me and resulted in my lifelong symptoms of depression, anxiety and … mental torture for me."

She said Harrison controlled her life and if she did anything he did not approve of, "he would erupt into one of his wild, violent and dangerous rages".

Ms Ryan said the domestic violence culminated with Harrison deliberately setting fire to their home on June 2, 1991.


The late Judge Brian Harrison
The late Judge Brian Harrison


In her affidavit she alleges lawyers colluded to cover it up. Harrison was not charged over the fire.

She said it destroyed her mental health and she then lived in fear of Harrison, who later became a judge who often heard domestic violence-related cases.

Solicitors for the estate applied for an order to strike out Ms Ryan's claim, which was heard in her absence in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Ms Ryan's counsel, Gerard Forde, was unsuccessful in having the hearing adjourned, because Ms Ryan's mental health condition currently prevented her from instructing solicitors.

Ms Treston said Ms Ryan was not eligible to make a claim, because she was not a dependent former spouse receiving maintenance at the time the judge died.

She said there was nothing in her affidavit about an agreement or contract that would entitle her to further maintenance.

In her affidavit, Ms Ryan claimed to have received some maintenance from the judge, beyond court-ordered maintenance, but Ms Treston said there was no evidence.

Mr Forde said Ms Ryan said the reason she did not apply to a court for further maintenance before the judge's death was because she "feared for her safety".

He said as a result of the treatment she received from Harrison, she was "psychologically unable to make that application".

Ms Ryan said she believed Harrison, a former Rockhampton and Mackay barrister and judge for eight years, was powerful because of his position and legal and Labor Party connections.

Court documents revealed she was to file a sworn affidavit from Ann Gummow, the wife of retired District Court judge, Michael Shanahan.

She said in her affidavit Ms Gummow had previously corroborated her claims about Harrison's violent behaviour.

Ms Treston said Ms Ryan's affidavit was "quite scandalous" and filled with hearsay, and she asked for an order that it be sealed, destroyed or struck out.

Justice Glenn Martin reserved his decision.










Originally published as Widow and ex battle it out over judge's $6m estate