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NSW barrister sexually harassed law students

A former NSW barrister watched a sexually explicit video in front of a law student and showed a sex toy to a woman during a job interview.

user iconNaomi Neilson 17 April 2024 Big Law
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Charles Waterstreet, a barrister who does not currently hold a practising certificate, breached the Uniform Barrister Rules by sexually harassing a law student who worked for him, a woman who interviewed for a job with him, and a legal assistant in an elevator.

Although the conduct amounted to unsatisfactory professional conduct – and professional misconduct when taken together – the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) declined to find Waterstreet is not a fit and proper person to engage in legal practice.

Senior member Harry Dixon and general member Mary Bolt said the conduct was a “product of Waterstreet’s then undiagnosed, and therefore poorly controlled, bipolar II disorder, in combination with being an expression of some of his personality traits”.

 
 

“While attributes of his character influenced aspects of the way in which he behaved while hypomanic, the uncontrolled hypomania was the force that caused him to take his behaviour to the point where he fell foul of his professional and personal obligations of other people who were involved or present in his workplace,” the members found.

In affidavits provided to NCAT, Waterstreet’s chambers were described as “chaotic” and he encouraged an “environment that allowed everybody to discuss mental health and sexuality in detail”.

A University of NSW law student, known only as C1 to protect her identity, said Waterstreet viewed a pornographic video near her and once told her he wanted to “rub” a client’s partner “all over”.

Waterstreet also showed C1 a pencil drawing of a flaccid penis and said words to the effect of it being a “drawing of my beautiful penis”.

The student said this made her feel “uncomfortable and uneasy” and Waterstreet’s behaviour “caused me to be emotionally drained”.

Dixon and Bolt said a working environment that places law students or graduates under pressure by putting them in an environment that subjects them to sexual harassment is “inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of barristers by the public”.

“It may also, of course, have a serious adverse impact upon the student or graduate. Workplaces, including chambers, should be safe places for all of the people who work or visit them,” they said.

The second woman, known as C2, was a juris doctor student who said she was sexually harassed during a job interview.

C2 said Waterstreet showed her a “black vibrating sex toy”, making her feel “very shocked, uncomfortable and sick in the stomach”.

Waterstreet also introduced a client as a “porn star” and claimed he had the “biggest cock in Australia” and later told her “female orgasms were more volcanic and far more powerful than men’s”.

NCAT said the latter comment was “far beyond anything that would be expected or acceptable in the course of an interview”.

“When interviewing a candidate for a position, in all cases, but especially for a position at entry level to the legal profession, it is wholly inappropriate to subject that candidate to sexual harassment or unethical conduct of any kind,” Dixon and Bolt said.

The third woman, C3, said she was working as a legal secretary when she got onto an elevator with Waterstreet and two other men.

Waterstreet turned and asked who she preferred and then, when a fourth man joined, added, “Which of the four of us would you prefer?”

When a woman joined the elevator at another floor, Waterstreet then said, “I didn’t mean to be discriminatory earlier, which of the five of us would you prefer”.

NCAT said this conduct “displayed a total lack of consideration for the feelings of a young woman, in a professional setting”.

“[This] was a substantial failure to maintain a reasonable standard of diligence in his behaviour as a barrister. It was a serious failure, with predictable, lasting impacts on C3,” Dixon and Bolt said.