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:
- The Victorian Bar: Quality of Working Life Survey Report
Quality of Working Life Research Group (2018)
- Sexual Harassment in the Victorian Legal Sector
Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner study (2019)
- Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession
International Bar Association (2019)
- Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report – concerning the prevalence of sexual harassment across Australian workplaces and the judiciary’s role in establishing how victims of sexual harassment experience the legal system.
Australian Human Rights Commission (2020)
- Statement by the Hon Susan Kiefel AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia – concerning its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Justice Dyson Heydon.
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.
External LinkJUDICIAL LIFE
Review of Recruitment and Working Arrangements of Staff Working in a Primary Relationship with Judicial OfficersThis report examines the structural sexual harassment risks which exist within courts and VCAT and makes 27 recommendations to consolidate commitments to build cultures of respect, fairness and inclusion. Key recommendations include improved training for staff and judicial officers, greater staff diversity and additional reporting pathways.
Summary of the Review of Recruitment and Working Arrangements of Staff Working in a Primary Relationship with Judicial OfficersThe College has prepared a summary of the Review of Recruitment and Working Arrangements of Staff Working in a Primary Relationship with Judicial Officers, which includes background context and a concise overview of the review's 27 recommendations organised into relevant themes.
External LinkJUDICIAL LIFE
Chief Justice Response to Review of Recruitment and Working Arrangements of Staff Working in a Primary Relationship with Judicial OfficersThis statement by the Chief Justice thanks the authors of the Review, acknowledges the harms of sexual harassment, reiterates the commitment of Courts, VCAT and CSV to address sexual harassment, and states that Courts Council has endorsed the Review’s 27 recommendations.
Efforts to address sexual harassment are also taking place in jurisdictions across Australia and globally.
Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group to the Judicial Conference of the United StatesIn 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.
Further Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group to the Judicial Conference of the United StatesThis 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.
Justices’ Policy on Workplace ConductIn 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.
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.
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.
Judicial Conduct Guideline on Sexual HarassmentThe 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.
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.
Guide to Judicial ConductThe 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.
Bangalore Principles on Judicial ConductAdopted 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.
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:
- using their online portal
- by email
- by post to:
GPO Box 4305
Melbourne VIC 3001.
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.
Power and ConsentRachel 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.
The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing AustraliaIn 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.
Enough Is Not Enough: Reflection on Sexual Harassment in the Federal JudiciaryIn 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.
Protecting Federal Judiciary Employees from Sexual Harassment and Discrimination: Testimony of Olivia WarrenOlivia 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.
#MeToo: Stories from the Australian MovementThe 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.