NSW Bar Association cites ‘recent incidents’ as cause for stern reminders
The president of the NSW Bar Association has issued a public letter to remind all members about appropriate conduct in relation to use of social media and the need for “exemplary conduct” when attending functions associated with the organisation.
The message from Arthur Moses SC, posted on the association’s daily news bulletin ‘In Brief’, referred to a “number of recent incidents” that “prompted” the president to remind members of their obligations under the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015.
Mr Moses reminded members “that electronic communication – including email and the use of all forms social media [sic] – requires the same level of courtesy and professionalism as other more traditional means of communication.”
Referring to the Barristers’ Rules, Mr Moses said “one object of the rules is to ensure that barristers act in accordance with the general principles of professional conduct”, to “maintain high standards of professional conduct”.
Mr Moses highlighted that “members should be especially vigilant when using methods of communication which are by their nature less formal in tone, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram and other forms of social media.”
He warned: “You should be aware that any comment made online, even in a closed / secret Facebook group, can be shared via a screen shot”.
“The rules provide that a barrister must not engage in conduct which is discreditable to a barrister or likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or bring the legal profession into disrepute,” he said.
Mr Moses furthered the scope of his message to include a statement on the Barristers’ Rules also prohibiting “conduct which constitutes discrimination, sexual harassment or workplace bullying.”
“Breach of the Rules is capable of constituting unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.”
The message continued in a similar vein, looking next to “conduct at functions associated with the Bar Association.”
Mr Moses wished to remind members “of the need for exemplary conduct when attending such functions”.
“By all means enjoy yourself, but be mindful that your conduct must not cause harm to, or negatively impact, others,” he continued.
He brought attention to some provisions of the Barristers’ Rules, urging members to be mindful of them at such events.
Under rule 8, he said, “a barrister must not engage in conduct which is dishonest or otherwise discreditable to a barrister or is likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession”.
In addition, Mr Moses said under rule 123, “a barrister must not in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes discrimination, sexual harassment, or workplace bullying”.
“Both these rules are relevant to your conduct at such events which are work events,” he noted.
He considered the impositions on the Bar Council of the obligation under section 465 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) to report a suspected offence to police or other “appropriate or prosecuting authority” if the council “suspects on reasonable grounds that a person has committed a serious offence as defined in section 6 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW)”.
“The fact that your conduct may become the subject of complaint, or referred to the police or other relevant authority, is not in itself the reason why proper behaviour is expected of barristers,” Mr Moses said.
However, he said that for members “a general awareness that unacceptable behaviour may lead to these consequences should be borne in mind”.
Lawyers Weekly contacted the NSW Bar Association for comment and clarification on the ‘recent incidents’ mentioned within the public letter, but had not received a response prior to deadline.