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Sitting SA judicial officer accused of harassment

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A sitting South Australian judicial officer has been accused of harassment, the Equal Opportunity Commissioner has revealed, after a respondent to the Commission’s recent inquiry into the state’s legal profession refuted a published claim that only former officers were accused of problematic behaviour.

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In a statement released this afternoon, Equal Opportunity Commissioner Jodeen Carney said she had corrected a report into harassment within South Australia’s legal profession after one of the respondents to an anonymous survey undertaken as part of the review contacted her office, alleging she was harassed by a sitting judicial officer.

The original report, handed down on Wednesday, contained a footnote on page 118 stating: “responses received during the review did not detail incidences of harassment perpetrated by any sitting judicial officer”.

Carney said a respondent alleged she was harassed by a sitting officer.

“I have been contacted by a survey respondent who has told me that one of the incidents she referred to, and which was subsequently referred to in the report, did involve a sitting judicial officer,” she said.

“The review team inferred from the initial response that the matter did not involve a current judicial officer. That is not the case.

“To remedy this, a revised copy of the Report has been placed on the EOC website. The footnote has been removed.”

Chief justice Chris Kourakis said in a statement that he was “very disappointed” to hear that a serving judicial officer had been accused of harassment.

“Any offending by judicial officers must be eliminated,” he said.

“Judicial Officers must exemplify the respectful behaviours which the community expects.

“Any form of harassment is unacceptable.”

Kourakis said it was important that victims of sexual harassment by judicial officers be given an opportunity to “tell their story to the Chief Justice or the principal judicial officer of the Court concerned”.

He said the Courts Administration Authority had established a dedicated email address to which complaints about the conduct of serving or former judicial officers can be sent.

“I welcome the opportunity to listen to the account of any complainant who would like to meet with me,” he said.

“The complainant may be accompanied by a support person of their choice and/or may nominate a judge, a Courts Administration Authority senior employee or a legal practitioner to be present.

“To ensure confidentiality, the meeting can be arranged at a place away from the Court itself.”

Kourakis said he would support “any complainant who comes forward” and he had approached Police Commissioner Grant Stevens asking him to provide an “easily accessible process for reporting the complaint”.

Carney said she commended the survey respondent for contacting her about the matter and encouraged others to also come forward if they wished.

“I assure anyone who has been the victim of sexual or discriminatory harassment that they can contact my office for advice as to making a complaint, which may include making a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner,” she said.

“I do not propose to provide further details, given assurances of confidentiality made to survey respondents.

“The amended report – absent one footnote – does not alter the substance of any of the case studies or respondents cited in the final Report.”

InDaily contacted the Equal Opportunity Commission to ask why the footnote was originally included in the report.

A spokesperson referred InDaily back to Carney’s statement.

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Vickie Chapman referred InDaily to chief justice Chris Kourakis.

The Equal Opportunity Commission review, conducted by Acting Equal Opportunity Commissioner Stephanie Halliday, found that 42 per cent of the 600 legal practitioners who responded to a survey reported experiencing sexual or discriminatory harassment at work.

According to the review, “more often than not” the alleged perpetrators targeted women who were “very junior members of the profession or administrative staff”.

Just under 13 per cent of those said the behaviour was perpetrated by “very powerful” former members of the state’s judiciary.

A “worrying” 10 per cent of respondents also experienced sexual harassment during court proceedings.

One respondent reportedly told the Commission that they were “absolutely shocked” to be “continually harassed by a Magistrate”.

“I remember being in his courtroom one morning whilst he was presiding over a matter and he was texting me inappropriately during the case,” the respondent said.

“He said he was imagining me kneeling between his legs at the bench.”

Halliday’s report also cites one respondent claiming a Magistrate made “repeated lewd, inappropriate and harassing remarks”, and a former Judge groped and forcibly attempted to kiss a worker.

A different respondent said: “the numbers of Justices, Judges and Magistrates I have seen bullying and intimidating all variety of staff, and court visitors, is disgraceful.

“Bullying, harassment and intimidation is endemic in the CAA (Courts Administration Authority).

“Managers see what these Judges etc say and do and simply get away with their behaviour or conduct uninhibited, so they follow suit.”

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