CHAMBERS ACROSS NSW are beginning to sign up for the state Bar Council’s model sexual harassment and discrimination policy to avert the possible ramifications if these issues are not addressed.
Following the NSW Bar Association’s promotion of the policy in its newsletter Bar Brief, four chambers have so far formally adopted the policy.
Having pushed chambers to publicly support the policy, the NSW Bar Association is posting the names of participating chambers on its website, as well as organising Continuing Professional Development (CPD) seminars on sexual harassment. The latter is in accordance with clause 142 of the Legal Profession Regulation 2002, the Bar Association stated in Bar Brief.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, Virginia Lydiard, NSW Crown Prosecutor and chair of the EEO Committee of the Bar Association, said the policy “really is an excellent innovation and one that we think is absolutely necessary”.
The policy details ways that chambers can ensure the behaviour within firms is appropriate for the workplace. Angela Pearman from Martin Place Chambers, which has now adopted the policy, said chambers that join up are doing no more than what is required by the law. “It is important that floors have a mechanism to deal with matters as they arise,” she said.
Although only four NSW chambers have so far adopted the policy, including 7 Wentworth Chambers, 6 St James Hall Chambers and Martin Place Chambers, more are expected to take it up, according to both Lydiard and Pearman. “The word is just beginning to get out,” Pearman said, because “it takes a floor a while to decide that this is something for them.”
Lydiard stressed the importance of chambers adopting the policy. Floors have a responsibility to protect people from this sort of behaviour and “unless something is done in time this could cause huge damages if someone sues,” she said.
“Over the years there have been instances,” she said, “but it’s really put in place to deal with the odd instance, and there are only odd instances.”
Another reason chambers should sign up, Lydiard said, is because of the nature of chambers themselves. There are chambers where there is very little structure, she said. “Everyone is self-employed, you have staff and secretaries and in some chambers there may be only three or four females, even though more and more female barristers are joining the floors,” she said.
“But there is no way women can deal with sexual harassment issues in some chambers and workplaces,” so they either leave or put up with it for fear of some sort of repercussion, Lydiard said. But it is not only women who face sexual discrimination, Lydiard said, men also come across these problems.
On 17 June this year the Bar Council adopted the model sexual harassment and discrimination policy to assist members of chambers to meet their statutory obligations.
The NSW Bar Association reminds its members that pursuant to clause 142(1)(b) Legal Profession Regulation 2000, every three years each member must attain one CPD point related to discrimination and harassment, Pearman said.