The New Zealand Law Society President says the Act that regulates lawyers was set up to protect consumers, not lawyers from inappropriate behaviour occurring within the profession.
The Law Society has released the report of an independent working group that looked at the regulatory processes for reporting and taking action on sexual harassment and bullying in the legal profession.
One of the major conclusions in the report was that there were unclear reporting and conduct standards and that regulatory mechanisms and processes were not specifically designed for, or effective in, dealing with complaints about sexual violence, harassment, discrimination and bullying.
"The 2006 Lawyers and Conveyancers Act was drafted in a way that was very consumer focused. We cannot lose that. We need to continue to look after the consumers of our legal services. But that structure is not fit for purpose for these other types of complaints, and the working group has made some recommendations about what we can put in place that can sit alongside our consumer-focused regulations and complaints system,” says Kathryn Beck.
"The working group has looked at what an appropriate regulatory system might look like and should like like for sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct."
The Law Society has released a podcast in which Kathryn Beck speaks about the recommendations with Senior Communications Advisor, Nick Butcher, and what it could mean for the future of practising law.
And the chair of the independent regulatory working group, Dame Silvia Cartwright, says the group looked at other jurisdictions around the world and also at how other professions manage complaints of inappropriate behaviour. It included examination of the New Zealand Defence Force’s initiative Operation Respect.
“The regulations and processes currently in place are directed towards consumer based complaints such as overcharging of fees. No young woman or member of a minority ethnic group would dream of taking a complaint under a consumer based regime. They’re just not cut out for these sensitive sorts of complaints. So we decided that it was necessary to have a complaints system driven by the needs of those complaining,” Dame Silvia Cartwright says.
You can listen to a podcast where Dame Silvia discusses her team's work on the regulatory working group report here.