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SA judicial leaders discuss action on workplace harassment

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South Australia’s judicial leaders have met to discuss the issue of bullying and harassment in the legal profession following a call for an independent inquiry.

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Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said the meeting, held yesterday, discussed “practical solutions” to address the issue of workplace harassment, as well as the need to encourage more reporting.

InDaily reported yesterday SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros had called for an independent investigation into workplace harassment within South Australia’s legal profession, with the former lawyer claiming sexual harassment in the profession was “rife” and she was “no longer willing to sit by” and let it continue.  

Kourakis today said he recognised the need to demonstrate leadership following allegations of sexual harassment against a former High Court judge.

Yesterday’s meeting was presided by acting chief justice Trish Kelly and included representatives from the SA Bar Association, Law Society, Women Lawyers Association, Australian Association of Women Judges, Women at the Bar and the Adelaide Law School.

According to a media release issued by Kourakis this afternoon, the meeting agreed on a number of “in-principle” measures to tackle harassment at all levels of the legal profession, including at law schools.

Measures include compulsory professional development and training for all lawyers and a process whereby practitioners affected by workplace harassment or bullying can complain in confidence.

Kourakis said the meeting also agreed to implement annual, ongoing training for practitioners to ensure they understand their obligation to report inappropriate behaviour.

A second meeting is scheduled for later this year.

Bonaros yesterday introduced a motion in the upper house calling on SA Attorney-General Vickie Chapman to request that the state’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner launch an “independent” and “comprehensive” investigation.

She asked that the inquiry consider the adequacy of existing laws and policies relating to harassment in the legal profession, as well as to determine whether an independent body should be formed to allow lawyers to make complaints in a “confidential, sensitive and anonymous” way.

The SA Law Society reported a “concerning” level of bullying and harassment in the legal workplace following a survey it conducted in 2018.

The survey showed a “disproportionate” number of victims were women in junior roles, and that the harassment often occurred in circumstances where there was a power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator.

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