Right to feel safe at work is a fundamental right

for all in the legal profession

The Law Society of NSW has joined calls for the Federal Government to act on key recommendations from a landmark Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report into sexual harassment in the workplace in the wake of the allegations made against the former High Court Justice, Dyson Heydon AC QC.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Richard Harvey, has described the allegations of sexual harassment made by six women against the former High Court Justice as deeply concerning and disturbing.

Mr Harvey also acknowledged the courage of the women who came forward to report the allegations and commended The Hon Susan Kiefel, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, for the High Court’s response to the allegations, the subsequent inquiry and the Court’s apology to the victims.

“Sexual harassment or any type of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace should be condemned,” Mr Harvey said.

“One of the fundamental rights for anyone working in the legal profession, or any workplace for that matter, is that they can work in an environment in which they are free from sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, vilification or victimisation.

“Predatory behaviour by people in power is inexcusable and must be eliminated.

“These allegations strengthen our resolve to be part of the solution to eliminate disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace and ensure that victims can speak out against such behaviour in the knowledge that it will have severe consequences for the perpetrator, and not them.

“The Law Society has not and will not shy away from confronting systemic inequity between men and women and, at an individual level, dealing with the distress that arises from sexual harassment.

Mr Harvey said the Law Society contributed to an extensive Law Council of Australia submission to the AHRC inquiry into sexual harassment.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who led the inquiry, also participated in a ground-breaking panel discussion on sexual harassment in the legal profession at the Law Society in August 2019, in association with the International Bar Association.

The Law Society was also a foundational participant in the International Bar Association’s landmark “Us Too?” report on Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession.

“As the peak body for the state’s 35,000 solicitors, we have not been backward in seeking to create awareness of sexual harassment in the legal profession or seeking to drive positive change through our policy work, advocacy and regulatory functions.”

Mr Harvey said a number of the Law Society’s submissions to the AHRC inquiry into sexual harassment were reflected in the recommendations contained in the Respect@Work Report. These include:

  • Amending the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) to provide the AHRC with an inquiry function to inquire into systemic unlawful discrimination, including systemic sexual harassment.
  • Promoting harmonisation of anti-discrimination legislation across jurisdictions, without limiting or reducing protections.
  • Amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to extend coverage to unpaid workers and state public servants.
  • Amending the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) to extend the time limit for lodging a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) before which the AHRC President’s discretion to terminate the complaint arises.

The Law Society of NSW is seeking for these recommendations to be implemented by the Commonwealth Government as a matter of priority.

Mr Harvey said addressing and eliminating sexual harassment in the legal profession is the responsibility of everyone in the profession.

“Everyone in the legal profession should be aware of the steps that can be taken if someone is subject to sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace,” he said.

“It’s vital that all legal workplaces have transparent and effective complaints procedures to enable survivors to come forward, ensure that independent investigations are conducted, and if allegations are made out, perpetrators are dealt with swiftly and appropriately.”

“Everyone in the law has the right to a safe place of work.”