A singular event has occurred in recent days in our profession, namely the High Court’s publication of the findings of an investigation into the conduct of Dyson Heydon AC QC whilst a member of that Court. I am constrained by circumstances from commenting on that particular case at all. However, the gravity and significance of these issues for our profession are clear. It is for that reason that I must re-affirm the Bar Association’s absolute commitment to eradicating sexual harassment of any kind in the workplace. That extends to sexual harassment that occurs within the court system and, as highlighted by current circumstances, it explicitly extends to the peculiar vulnerabilities of judge’s associates.
I do wish to send a clear message in relation to sexual harassment. It will not be tolerated by the NSW Bar. The members of the Bar Council are united on their approach to this critical issue. We know that a workplace or profession where there is a perception that sexual harassment is tolerated or permitted, and where there is a perception of a lack of consequences for persons who engage in sexual harassment, is a place where sexual harassment flourishes. We are committed to driving sexual harassment out of our profession.
While both women and men in the legal profession have experienced sexual harassment, it is predominantly women who are subject to it. This can obviously be a driver in decisions to leave the workplace or profession, or decisions to join or not to join the profession in the first place. Such decisions can only impoverish the growth of a representative profession. The composition of the NSW Bar has changed over time and we need to protect and foster its diversity. In respect of the position of judge’s associates this is a subject that requires specific consideration at an institutional level.
I also wish to be clear that disrespectful behaviours towards women by members of our profession have no place at the NSW Bar. These statements extend of course, to such behaviours towards any person.
Barristers who engage in sexual harassment can be investigated and disciplined for professional misconduct. There are mechanisms in place to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. One of those is the mechanism introduced in 2019 by the Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner (OLSC) involving a process for people to make reports to the OLSC either by telephone or online, anonymously if they wish, about sexual harassment. There are support staff specifically trained to handle any reports, sensitively and supportively.
We are also committed at the NSW Bar to education so that members of the profession have absolutely clear understandings of their professional and ethical obligations from the moment they are issued a practising certificate, including in relation to Rule 123. Rule 123 provides:
“A barrister must not in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes:
(b) sexual harassment;
(c) workplace bullying.”
We urge members to refresh their awareness of their obligations by viewing topical CPDs such as "Us Too? Bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession - what is the NSW Bar doing?" and "Responding to sexual harassment at the Bar part 1 and part 2" which can be found in the CPD streaming section of the online portal.
Chambers are also encouraged to adopt and ensure their members are familiar with the Best Practice Guidelines.
I wish to reassure all members that we are committed to learning from past experience and striving every day to improve trust and respect in order that sexual harassment is discouraged, safely reported without fear of repercussions and as best possible, eliminated from our profession.
Finally, to all our members and especially our young female members, I wish to reassure you that your voices will be heard, you are integral to the future of the independent bar, and your Association will not tolerate your safety, wellbeing or careers being put at risk by harassment, bullying or victimisation, in whatever form it takes.
If you no longer wish to receive In Brief, please notify the Bar Association's Certification Officer