New Zealand Law Society - Third anniversary of serious allegations about behaviour in the profession

Third anniversary of serious allegations about behaviour in the profession

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This week marks the third anniversary since allegations about bullying and sexual harassment in the Aotearoa New Zealand legal profession were published in the media.

New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa President Tiana Epati says that over the past three years valid questions have been asked about the culture of the profession and how all of the people and organisations within it can address systemic cultural issues.

She says there has been work done at every level to address culture change.

“I’ve spoken widely and publicly about the fact that these issues go beyond gender and have highlighted the need to talk about broader issues relating to intersectional experiences when discussing discrimination and harassment. All voices, on all forms of discrimination, need to be heard and responded to.”

The anniversary of the complaints being made has not surprisingly triggered queries from the media asking for updates on complaints received in 2018 and what has changed within the profession since then. We know these issues are of concern to the whole profession.

For that reason, we are sharing a statement made by Chief Executive Helen Morgan-Banda in response to media interest:

“Under the current regulatory system the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa would be breaking the law if we commented on any aspect of complaints made to us.

Law Society President Tiana Epati came into the Presidency in 2019 with a declared focus on improving diversity and inclusion. She has begun a process of system-level changes to deal with unacceptable behaviour as well speaking publicly on these issues many times since she took office.

At the highest level we announced an independent review of statutory framework for legal services, including the structure and function of the Law Society, in October 2019 which will examine all aspects of the current system, including the complaints process. The Terms of Reference for that review will be consulted on early this year.

We have also engaged with the profession and got agreement on significant changes to the current conduct rules applying to lawyers which we expect to come into force on 1 July 2021. These changes will clarify the threshold for reporting unacceptable conduct to the Law Society and create rules to protect anyone who makes a report or complaint.

The proposed changes will require those who manage and operate law practices to notify the Law Society about any warnings or dismissals for this conduct and to report to the Law Society annually that their law practice has the required policies and systems in place to prevent and protect against bullying, discrimination and harassment.”

The environment we operate in is complex. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (2006) sets out a co-regulatory system in which responsibility for regulatory functions is shared between independent entities (the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal and the Legal Complaints Review Officer), the government and the Law Society.

Only the Tribunal may make a finding of misconduct and suspend a lawyer or strike them from the Roll of Barristers and Solicitors.

You can read more about the co-regulatory system here and an earlier opinion piece written by the President and published in the media last year.

If you have any comments or queries on these issues, please contact the Law Society CEO: