Law Council President, Pauline Wright, statement regarding sexual harassment in legal profession

Law Council of Australia

At today’s board meeting of the Law Council of Australia, Directors unanimously called on the Federal Government to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), to close the loop holes and ensure that victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can be protected with a comprehensive legislative framework that extends to barristers and statutory office holders.

There was also firm endorsement of the Law Council’s persevering calls for the Government to establish a Federal Judicial Commission.

Since 2006, the Law Council has been urging the creation of an appropriately constituted oversight body to deal with complaints against judicial officers which is at arms’ length from the executive government, to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. The High Court’s commissioning of an independent investigation was the only feasible avenue available to deal with the complaints. The process was conducted properly with procedural fairness and the Chief Justice has been rightly congratulated for her exemplary handling of the complaint and response to the investigator’s report.

For the good of the legal profession, the standing of the judicial arm of government and for the communities we serve, however, the time has come for a robust and transparent process that can consider complaints against judicial officers, whether they relate to allegations of negligence, capacity or misbehaviour. The Law Council is liaising with both Government and the judiciary to urge action in relation to this important issue.

Unanimous endorsement by the Directors was given to the Law Council to convene a national round table, bringing together relevant decision-makers from across the country, to share best practice and programs, with the idea of selecting and developing a blueprint for action to address sexual harassment in the workplace and the advancement of women in the legal profession.

Other actions affirmed by Law Council Directors include prioritising the development of protocols relating to the standards of judicial behaviour in the courtroom.

The attrition rate of women lawyers is high, and experiences of sexual harassment are a key reason why women leave the law. This is damaging and costly – for individuals, for firms, and for the current and future standing of the legal profession.

The Law Council is committed to ensuring a diverse and inclusive profession which facilitates a positive experience for all members, and which thereby delivers quality services and justice.

/Public Release.