The New Zealand Bar Association has released a Policy, to address sexual harassment and bullying and they're encouraging barristers who work in chambers to support it.
Barristers make up 10.5% of all New Zealand lawyers. Among the 1380 barristers practising as at 1 February, 2018, 120 were practising Queen’s Counsel.
The Chambers Conduct & Values Policy covers all people working in chambers, visiting chambers and providing services to chambers. It covers barristers, junior barristers, members of staff and instructing solicitors.
“It came about as a result of the media attention to this very serious issue in the profession. There was a need to make sure that chambers was also involved in dealing with this problem. I think that barristers have always been viewed as solitary individuals but that’s not true as we do work together in chambers. I think that if there is more than one barrister in a set, then they should have a policy in place,” says NZBA President Clive Elliott QC.
Mr Elliott says he’d expect some of the country’s biggest chambers such as Shortland Chambers - where there are 34 barristers - and Bankside Chambers - where there are 31 barristers - to sign up quickly.
“It’s up to the leading chambers to do this and then I think the smaller chambers will follow,” he says.
The Chambers Conduct & Values Policy includes clear and concise examples of behaviour which may amount to harassment. This includes unwanted touching, requests for sexual favours in return for career advancement, sexual or racial jokes and bullying.
“It may seem obvious when you read it but sometimes there’s a fine line between something which may seem innocent enough but it is still an intrusion into someone’s space. While physical and sexual harassment might be well understood to most people, there are more subtle forms of harassment that might not be as understood to the same extent such as innuendos that can cross the line,” he says.
In the past, some lawyers, particularly women have been reluctant to make complaints of a sexual nature, fearing that it may affect their career prospects.
The Bar Association policy also demands a commitment to ensuring that no one who makes an allegation of harassment or discrimination in good faith should be subjected to any detriment or disfavour as a result.
Clive Elliott QC says he suspects that some people who have been subjected to harassment may feel that complaining could hold them back in their career, if for example there was an opportunity to become a full member of chambers.
“We’ve heard stories of people afraid to say something in case it affects their progression chances. It’s a very real consideration. Some people will feel that they don’t want to make a name for themselves as a trouble maker. We’ve really got to clear that away so that people can raise these issues without fear. It’s a small profession and there’s a reluctance by people to mark themselves as a troublemaker," he says.