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Magistrate removed from office for sexual harassment

The Governor of South Australia has removed a magistrate from office, following the tabling of a report in the state’s Parliament detailing proven allegations of misconduct, including sexual harassment.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 22 November 2022 The Bar
Magistrate removed from office for sexual harassment
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Findings of the report

A report from the Judicial Conduct Panel in South Australia into the magistrate, Simon Hugh Milazzo, engaged in inappropriate conduct with sexual connotations in relation to four different women over a period of approximately eight years.

The magistrate was, the panel wrote, “prone to make out-of-court comments of a sexual nature to work colleagues which could, in the case of some hearers, cause distress and offence”.


There was “abundant evidence”, the panel went on, of the magistrate displaying a “pattern of unintentionally inappropriate behaviour in situations where he had no desire to cause harm or embarrassment and where, had he become conscious of doing so, he would have wished to apologise”.

“He may well have wished not to offend and to apologise if he became aware of having done so. However, if the complainants’ evidence is accepted, a recurring theme in all the complaints that are the subject of this report is an apparent failure on the part of the magistrate to consider at the time the effect his words or actions might have had on the person or persons concerned,” it said.

Among the allegations substantiated in the report was a comment, to a magistrate’s associate who is gay, that, “You have a vagina, and it was designed for a penis.”

Elsewhere, evidence accepted by the panel included remarks made to the associate of a District Court judge by the magistrate, to the effect of the following: “She’s a very attractive girl, isn’t she”, and “If I was one to two years younger, I would definitely have a crack.”

In recommending that Mr Milazzo be removed from office, the panel observed that the magistrate had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, however did not deduce that this mitigated the level of responsibility in such serious cases of inappropriate behaviour with strong sexual connotation toward subordinates.

“The panel acknowledges that there is no question about the competence of the magistrate in discharging his in-court judicial duties. However, the panel notes that a judicial officer has obligations to conduct himself appropriately at all times, particularly in respect of junior staff, chambers staff and junior lawyers,” it concluded.

“The panel notes that all of the conduct proved against the magistrate occurred in the workplace either in court-related or informal settings related to staff who were junior to the magistrate.

“For this reason, the panel is of the view that the Courts Administration Authority would not be able to discharge its duty of care to all employees if the magistrate is permitted to return to the workplace.

“It is the panel’s opinion that removal of the magistrate is justified.”

Responses to the report

The report was tabled in South Australian Parliament last Thursday (17 November 2022). Speaking in the state’s Parliament on that date, South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher said that the panel, which included a former judge and prominent doctor, found that Mr Milazzo’s actions were not consistent with his position, and his removal was justified, and that the women involved were all in a subordinate position to the magistrate at the time.

“From the date the first complaint was made to now was complex and lengthy,” Mr Maher said.

“I have no doubt that the process was difficult for the complainants and witnesses.”

The state’s Chief Magistrate, Her Honour Judge Mary-Louise Hribal, noted that Governor Frances Adamson had acted on the recommendation for removal of Mr Milazzo from office.

“I would like to acknowledge the strength and courage of the victims who have made complaints and given evidence before the panel. I am very sorry that they have been harmed by the conduct of a magistrate of this court. Whilst I have not yet met with all of the victims, I would like to listen to, and learn from, what they have to say, if they wish to speak with me,” Her Honour said.

“Judicial officers are subject to the laws and standards of acceptable behaviour which are equally applicable to all. Everyone has a right to a safe workplace. Power imbalances must be guarded against.

“The panel report and recommendations are a clear reminder to all judicial officers that we must be beyond reproach.

“I will continue to work with magistrates to ensure that the standards outlined in the Judicial Officer Appropriate Workplace Conduct Policy are upheld. Magistrates will continue training about harassment, including sexual harassment.”

South Australia’s Chief Justice, the Honourable Chris Kourakis, added that bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation of any kind “cannot be tolerated”.

“Workplace cultures [that] support employees to speak up if they experience or witness harassment of any sort must be fostered,” His Honour submitted.

Kourakis CJ noted that the Guide to Judicial Conduct, as approved by the Council of Australian and New Zealand Chief Justices, provides that judges should remember that many members of the public regard judges as a privileged group because of their remuneration and entitlements, and because of the nature of the judicial office.

“They are likely to expect that a judge will be especially vigilant in observing appropriate standards of conduct, both publicly and privately,” His Honour outlined.

“Judges must conform to the standard of conduct required by law and expected by the community. They must treat others with civility and respect in their public life, social life and working relationships. It goes without saying that judges must not engage in discrimination or harassment (including sexual harassment) or bullying.

“In relation to these matters, judges must be particularly conscious of the effect of the imbalance of power as between themselves and others, especially their chamber’s staff, court staff and junior lawyers.”