New Zealand Law Society - Law Society plans changes to regulatory process for lawyers accused of inappropriate behaviour

Law Society plans changes to regulatory process for lawyers accused of inappropriate behaviour

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The New Zealand Law Society is planning a number of changes to the processes for reporting and taking action on sexual harassment and bullying in the legal profession.

These include:

  • New rules for lawyers which specifically require high personal and professional standards with specific reference to sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and other unacceptable behaviour.
  • A specific prohibition on victimisation of people who report unacceptable behaviour in good faith.
  • The imposition of minimum obligations on legal workplaces or lawyers who are responsible for workplaces. This will include auditing and monitoring of compliance and a prevention on the use of non-disclosure agreements to contract out or conceal unacceptable behaviour.
  • A more flexible two-stage approach to confidentiality for complaints about sexual violence, bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and related conduct.
  • Creation of a specialised process for dealing with complaints of unacceptable behaviour.
  • Changes to the procedures of the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
  • Investigation of mandatory training and education of lawyers to address culture problems in the legal profession.

The Law Society’s Board has accepted the recommendations made in a report on the regulatory processes for lawyers where unacceptable workplace behaviour occurs. The report has been prepared by a five-person independent working group established by the law Society in March and chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright.

Presented to the New Zealand Law Society Board on 7 December, it identifies a range of problems with the current reporting regime and concludes that the regulatory mechanisms and processes are not effectively designed for dealing with complaints about sexual violence, harassment, discrimination and bullying.

New Zealand Law Society President, Kathryn Beck says the working group has prepared a comprehensive and well-researched report which fully meets its terms of reference.

“Dame Silvia and the other four members have provided valuable information and insights into the issues involved. They have consulted widely and they have developed several recommendations. We thank them for their careful and thoughtful report.

“We wanted to know what was wrong with the current system and have received compelling independent answers including that conduct and reporting standards are unclear and must be addressed so to remove any confusion over what is expected of all lawyers,” she says.

Ms Beck says some of the recommendations are complex and far-reaching, but they will assist in making the legal community a safe place for all.

“The Law Society will now develop a programme to determine how they can be put into effect. Some of the recommendations are currently outside the mandate of the Law Society and require legislative change. The Law Society will work in consultation with the government, the profession and other organisations to achieve the appropriate outcome.

“We have already advised the Minister, Andrew Little, of the report’s recommendations and will seek a meeting in the New Year to hear his views and to discuss how we can implement the required rules changes,” Ms Beck says.

“As indicated in the working group’s report, and as with all legislative change, it will be important to take care to ensure there are no unintended consequences. A consultative and collaborative approach is needed, and this is essential to ensure we achieve our objective of healthy, safe, respectful and inclusive legal workplaces.”

The full regulatory working group report is available here.

A copy of the Terms of Reference of the Group can be found here.