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Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Statement on sexual harassment in the legal profession

The ACT Law Society is both alarmed and deeply disappointed at the reported findings of sexual harassment by a former member of the highest and most respected legal institution in the land.

“We recognise the courage and strength of character displayed by the victims who came forward against former justice Dyson Heydon, and we fully support Chief Justice Kiefel in making this matter public knowledge,” said ACT Law Society President, Chris Donohue.

“We would also like to express our empathy for our former president, Noor Blumer, who suffered sexual harassment while representing the Law Society at a social function. Her strength in speaking out is an example to us all.

“The Law Society takes a zero tolerance approach to allegations of sexual misconduct and other forms of harassment within the ACT profession.

“This same attitude of intolerance should be taken by all members of the profession. The culture of secrecy that allows this kind of misconduct to continue, and to go unreported, is abhorrent. We have a duty as legal practitioners to hold ourselves, and our peers, to higher standards.”

We encourage our members to report any inappropriate behaviour, and we have several avenues in place to support this.

The Law Society investigates conduct of this nature when a person makes a formal complaint (under Chapter 4 of the Legal Profession Act 2006), or when an informal complaint is considered by our Council and they conclude that it requires investigation.

Investigation of such conduct proceeds on the basis of a breach of rule 42 of our solicitors’ rules, which states as follows:

Rule 42 — Anti-discrimination and harassment
42.1 A solicitor must not in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes:
42.1.1 discrimination;
42.1.2 sexual harassment; or
42.1.3 workplace bullying.

Members are always welcome to call our office and speak to our Professional Standards Manager for advice.

We have arranged a panel of experienced senior practitioners who are available to give advice on personal or professional matters which members may be uncomfortable discussing with a colleague or supervising partner. This list of senior counsellors, and their contact details, are available in the member’s section of our website.

The Law Society also has a contract with Acacia Connection to provide a confidential counselling program for our members, available 24 hours a day by phone, text, and online. Details are available in the member’s section of our website.