Media release - Tackling inappropriate behaviour in the legal profession

An independent review of harassment in the South Australian legal profession has made 16 recommendations aimed at combatting inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. 

The review, undertaken by the Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity led by former Acting Commissioner Steph Halliday, heard from more than 600 people who were currently working - or had recently worked - in the sector.

"What the Review Team heard was extremely disturbing," Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Jodeen Carney said.

"People interviewed and those who responded to the survey described instances of appalling behaviour, complacent attitudes from colleagues, and a workplace culture where people feel they need to simply 'move on' for fear of professional retribution.

"The conduct occurred in both the private and public sectors, demonstrating the breadth of the issue."

Ms Carney said both she and her office were ready to assist the legal sector and Government in implementing the Review's recommendations. 

"Sensible and practical recommendations have been made which will make a difference, however it's clear that many workplaces in the legal profession need to change culture," she said. 

"Sexual and discriminatory harassment in the workplace is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated.

"Lawyers should understand this better than most, yet the Review found that too many women who work in the legal profession experienced it in their workplaces - and it must stop.

"At the same time, those working in the legal profession need to have confidence in the available complaint processes so they can report inappropriate behaviour without fear of retribution.

"In addition, people who witness sexual and discriminatory harassment need to recognise it for the serious misconduct that it is, and support victims as best they can."

Recommendations from the Review include:

  • Ensure Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking within the legal profession in South Australia review and update their policies to eliminate or ameliorate the risks of harm arising from sexual and discriminatory harassment
  • South Australia's Courts Administration Council develop training, programs and resources around harassment for judicial officers to be delivered annually
  • Universities and training providers review their ethics content to provide a profession-specific perspective of harassment
  • Appoint members to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal with expertise in dealing with sexual harassment or other trauma, and from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.

Ms Carney said many of the cases referred to in the review were historic. 

"In those cases where participants referred to more recent matters where action could still be taken, they were advised of the options available to them if they wished to proceed with a formal complaint," she said.

The report can be found at: https://eoc.sa.gov.au/initiatives/independent-review-harassment-legal-profession