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New code aims to combat harassment, bullying, and discrimination in Victorian Bar
07/10/2021
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The Victorian Bar has launched a revised code of conduct for its members that encourages the reporting of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination.

The revised code also offers support for victims and guidance to barristers who need to improve their conduct with the introduction of a peer-support barristers programme.

As a result, volunteer barristers will be trained to provide support to those who have experienced harassment, bullying, or discrimination in the workplace.

Peer-support barristers will also be able to assist fellow barristers who are concerned about their behaviour, by assisting them to undertake remedial action or counselling.

The revised code was launched by Senior Vice President Róisín Annesley QC, Junior Vice President Darryl Burnett, and Bar Council member Nawaar Hassan after consultation with the Bar’s more than 2,200 members.

The online launch was attended by heads of the Supreme Court of Victoria, the County Court and the Magistrates’ Court, and a senior judge representing the chief justice of the Federal Court of Australia.

Victorian Bar President Christopher Blanden QC said: “All barristers and those with whom they work and interact have the right to go about their daily business in a safe and supportive environment.

“This revised code of conduct sends a strong message that sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination is unacceptable behaviour by barristers in connection with their practice.”

The Victorian Bar has also revised its grievance protocol enabling anyone who interacts with barristers to raise a grievance with the profession’s ethics committee.

It is no longer limited to barristers complaining about another barrister but now includes anyone who comes into contact with a barrister in connection with that barrister’s practice.

“The Bar is committed to providing a straightforward, accessible procedure to address concerns, reports and complaints through this revised grievance protocol,” said Blanden QC.

A 2019 report from the International Bar Association revealed that “bullying and sexual harassment are rife in Australian legal workplaces”. Australia was found to have the sixth highest rate for bullying in legal workplaces, compared to 34 other European countries.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of female respondents and half of male respondents reported being bullied in connection with their legal employment. 

More than one-third of respondents were subjected to bullying conduct at least once a week, including being sworn or yelled at by colleagues (37.2%); humiliated by colleagues in front of others (23.2%); physically assaulted or threatened by clients (21.8%); and receiving negative comments based on race (7.4%).