In July 2020, the Victorian Chief Justice and the Victorian Attorney-General commissioned a review into sexual harassment in Victorian courts and VCAT (the Szoke Report).

This review occurred in the context of several major pieces of work which highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment in legal workplaces generally, including the following works:

When the Szoke Report was released in April 2021, the Courts Council issued a statement welcoming the report and committing to implement the recommendations ‘with the aim of preventing sexual harassment, improving reporting and support, and providing a robust system of accountability.’

In addition, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson released a video message welcoming the report and stating:

Sexual harassment is harmful, unlawful and wrong. It goes against everything our justice system is built on. I want to make it clear we will not put up with any form of wrongful conduct in our courts or VCAT. There will be zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Efforts to address sexual harassment are also taking place in jurisdictions across Australia and globally.

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    Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group to the Judicial Conference of the United States

    In 2017, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court commissioned a report on safeguards to protect employees from inappropriate conduct. The report was delivered in 2018, and identified structural weaknesses which could contribute to sexual harassment, and measures to address those weaknesses.
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    Further Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group to the Judicial Conference of the United States

    This report follows up the 2018 Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group to the Judicial Conference of the United States in the United States, summarising the steps taken since January 2018 to improve workplace protections in Federal Courts in the United States of America.
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    Review of Sexual Harassment in the South Australia Legal Profession

    In 2021, the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission conducted this review, which identified harassment by a serving judicial officer.
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    Justices’ Policy on Workplace Conduct

    In 2022, the High Court of Australia published this policy which contains the justices’ commitment to 'ensuring that the Court is a safe and respectful workplace’. The policy covers inappropriate conduct, including bullying, harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It also outlines the complaints and investigations process at the High Court, and commits to an annual review of the policy informed by annual anonymous surveys.
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Sexual harassment is defined in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission explains what sexual harassment is, provides examples of sexual harassment, and discusses the obligation of employers to provide a safe workplace. The Commission also provides information for people who have experienced sexual harassment and wish to lodge a complaint to the Commission.

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    Respect@Work Report

    This report from the Australian Human Rights Commission comprehensively examines the issue of sexual harassment in a range of workplaces, including within the legal profession.
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    Australian Bar Association Sexual Harassment Podcasts

    Featuring these podcasts focus on sexual harassment in the legal system, covering topics such as supporting a culture of respect and diversity, power and consent, and eliminating sexual harassment.
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In the following webinar, the Sex Discrimination Commission, Kate Jenkins, and barrister Kate Eastman SC, discuss the Respect@Work report’s findings in relation to the legal profession.

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    Australian Bar Association Sexual Harassment Podcasts

    Featuring these podcasts focus on sexual harassment in the legal system, covering topics such as supporting a culture of respect and diversity, power and consent, and eliminating sexual harassment.
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    Submission to the Victorian Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment

    This submission by RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice contains research-led material on what victims of sexual harassment seek, how to categorise those needs into seven types of ‘justice needs’, and the different options and pathways organisations should provide.
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    Judicial Conduct Guideline on Sexual Harassment

    The Judicial Commission of Victoria’s guideline spell out that sexual harassment is a form of improper conduct for judicial officers, identifies the types of behaviour that may constitute sexual harassment, and provides information on complaint pathways concerning sexual harassment. The guideline also contains information on improper personal relationships that can arise between judicial officers and others.
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The Victorian Courts Council has endorsed a suite of policies regarding improper personal conduct and are available to Victorian judicial officers and Court Services Victoria staff. These policies cover:

  • sexual harassment and victimisation
  • bullying, discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • managing consensual personal relationships in the workplace and alcohol consumption at work and work related events.

The aim of these policies is to set out expectations for CSV staff and provide information on complaints pathways and support systems where CSV staff experience improper conduct from a judicial officer, another CSV employee, or a member of the public. 

The policies include sections on:

  • complaints against judicial officers
  • confidentiality, privacy and procedural fairness
  • information for respondents accused of bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation
  • supports for employees and bystanders
  • information for respondents accused of sexual harassment.
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    Guide to Judicial Conduct

    The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Guide to Judicial Conduct was updated in November 2020 to include a statement about the need for judges to treat others with civility and respect, and that bullying, discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, are unacceptable, and that judges must be conscious of power imbalances that exist between them and chambers staff, court staff and junior lawyers.
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    Bangalore Principles on Judicial Conduct

    Adopted by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, these principles identify six core judicial values: independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality and competence and diligence. The document discusses gender discrimination as an aspect of the value of impartiality; that judges should avoid sexist or insensitive language and that commenting on a person’s physical appearance or dress where such comments would not be made about a person of a different gender may constitutes sexual harassment; and that sexual harassment is often both illegal and unethical.
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    The Development of the Bangalore Principles

    In this podcast, the Global Judicial Integrity Network discusses how the Bangalore Principles on Judicial Conduct evolved, including the belated need to address sexual harassment.
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Court Services Victoria sexual harassment complaints process

Court Services Victoria has produced guidance on the available processes and supports when a person wishes to report sexual harassment or victimisation. The guidance is available to Victorian judicial officers and CSV staff, and identifies:

  • who you can report the conduct to, including both within Court Services Victoria and relevant external bodies
  • the role of bystanders
  • the supports available to complainants and accused.
Sexual harassment support and response tool

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission maintains a tool which operates as an interactive chat that provides information for people who have:

  • experienced sexual harassment
  • witnessed sexual harassment
  • received a disclosure about sexual harassment

The purpose of the tool is to guide the user to understand when conduct constitutes sexual harassment and options on how to respond to harassment.

Making a complaint 

The main avenue for complaints about sexual harassment by Victorian judicial officers is the Judicial Commission of Victoria. 

Complaints can be made to the Commission:

The Commission also makes available specially trained complaints officers and lawyers to discuss potential complaints in person or by telephone. 

People other than Court Services Victoria (CSV) employees, such as judicial officers or other persons working in Victorian courts and in CSV premises, can lodge complaints about CSV employees with the Executive Director, People and Culture CSV.

Support for employees

Court Services Victoria (CSV) employees can access confidential counselling services via the Sexual Harassment Support Service and Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  

Employees and bystanders may also contact a CSV Contact Officer. Contact Officers are CSV employees who have been identified as well-regarded, trusted, specialised trained staff who can:

  • support confidential discussions about sexual harassment and victimisation
  • provide advice regarding the reporting process
  • respect the confidentiality of the process, wherever possible
  • provide regular support.

Contact officers are not counsellors or trained medical professionals and cannot give legal advice.

The global #MeToo movement has fostered widespread awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment in a range of workplaces. This section contains a curated selection of the books, articles and podcasts which are likely to be the most interesting or relevant for the Victorian judiciary.

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    Power and Consent

    Rachel Doyle SC’s short book turns the focus away from victim-survivors to re-focus on perpetrators, delineating three red flags for detecting the increasing risk of perpetration along axes of age, seniority and expectations of secrecy. Doyle advocates reforms to complaints process and procedure, including enabling prospective co-complainants to act together more easily, changing the rules of tendency evidence in sexual harassment complaints and formalising bystander obligations.
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    The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing Australia

    In this essay, investigative journalist, writer and producer Jess Hill contends that the impact of #MeToo in Australia has been ‘seismic’ and explores sexual harassment across multiple professional fields including the Australian judiciary. Hill reports that lawyer Josh Bornstein is representing complainants against five different judges in five different courts. And she emphasises the importance of revealing ‘predatory male behaviour’ in judicial circles where matters of domestic and sexual violence, as well as sexual harassment, are presided over.
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    Enough Is Not Enough: Reflection on Sexual Harassment in the Federal Judiciary

    In this article, Olivia Warren describes the regular sexual harassment and bullying she experienced in her year working as a clerk (the American equivalent of an associate) for American judge Stephen Reinhardt. Warren reflects on her experiences of the sexual harassment itself and the process and aftermath of revealing the harassment.
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    Protecting Federal Judiciary Employees from Sexual Harassment and Discrimination: Testimony of Olivia Warren

    Olivia Warren provides her testimony to the US House Committee on the Judiciary on the regular sexual harassment and bullying she experienced in her year working as a clerk (the American equivalent of an associate) for American judge Stephen Reinhardt.
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    On Sexual Harassment in the Judiciary

    In this essay, Leah M Litman and Deeva Shah argue that individuals have both personal and collective responsibility for the professional norms that allow sexual harassment to occur.
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    #MeToo: Stories from the Australian Movement

    The Szoke Report emphasizes the importance of listening to the lived experience of victim-survivors of sexual harassment, and recognises the particular vulnerabilities of minority groups in contexts of power inequality. This compilation broadcasts a range of voices and experiences of sexual harassment in Australia, including that of writer, illustrator, editor and commercial lawyer Rebecca Lim.
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    Five Women

    For those interested in stories of lived experience of sexual harassment (in a non-judicial context), this production by This American Life details the experience of five women in America.
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    Judicial Stress and Judicial Bullying

    In this article, Michael Kirby reflects on how the topic of judicial stress has evolved from an unmentionable in the late 90s to a recognised issue. He considers the stress which judges create for others through judicial bullying.
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    #YouToo? Sexual Harassment and Gender Inequality after #MeToo

    The Diversity Council of Australia interviews Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and journalist and advocate Tracey Spicer on the nature of sexual harassment and how to eliminate it.
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    #YouToo? Ending Sexual Harassment

    In this podcast, Journalist Tracey Spicer and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins discuss how we may finally end sexual harassment.
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