Tasmanian Women Lawyers (TWL) is aware of the publicly reported allegation of a judge of the Supreme Court of Tasmania engaging in intimate conduct with a staff member in public following the Opening of the Legal Year Dinner.

We welcome the Supreme Court’s investigation of and response to this allegation. Conduct such as that alleged raises issues around power imbalances in personal relationships, and the potential of workplace sexual harassment, which may bring the judiciary and the legal profession into disrepute, and in turn undermine the public’s confidence in the justice system.

Tasmanian Women Lawyers states that this conduct is concerning and requires a firm response. We note that the current counselling provided to the staff concerned is not transparent and it is not clear to the public or broader legal profession what it entails.

This incident highlights the lack of transparent and accountable processes for investigating allegations into judicial misconduct or impropriety. We call upon Parliament and the Judiciary to implement a Judicial Commission, similar to models used in other Australian states, which would allow a clear process for all complaints regarding judicial behaviour that is open and allows for procedural fairness for all parties. This would provide opportunity to restore public faith in the justice system by showing the willingness of the Judiciary to be held to the same standards and process for accountability as public servants.

Without such a process being available in Tasmania, one of the few options available for the resolution of such allegations is to call for the judge concerned to resign. We understand that this option has not been taken in this case.

Tasmanian Women Lawyers notes the Law Council of Australia’s 2013 National Attrition and Re-Engagement Report and numerous other reports into sexual harassment and misconduct in Australian legal workplaces.

Wherever there is an inherent power imbalance between the parties to such conduct, there is the risk of exploitation. In this case, the conduct involved one of the highest officers of the law in this jurisdiction and a junior staff member. TWL condemns conduct which gives rise to allegations of an abuse of power.

We urge all Tasmanian legal workplaces  to foster an environment in which staff members can raise their concerns about misconduct without fear of recrimination. We also urge all members of the profession to discuss such matters with sensitivity to those whose lives may be affected by such conduct.

TWL recognises that the historically male-dominated and tight knit nature of the legal profession has led to a culture in which sexual harassment and misconduct has been allowed to continue. We understand that members of the profession have been reluctant to discuss this matter publicly out of fear of recrimination. We call for an end to this culture of secrecy. All too often the women caught up in such incidents face vilification and negative professional consequences when they become public knowledge. TWL reiterates that in situations where there is an inherent power imbalance between the parties, the person in a position of authority should always bear the consequences of their actions. Women and other subjects of such misconduct should be supported and made to feel safe by the profession.

TWL is Tasmania’s representative body for women lawyers. If you are a female lawyer who has been affected by bullying, sexual harassment or misconduct and wish to speak to us about it, we encourage you to contact us on admin@tasmanianwomenlawyers.org.au

*This statement has been made by consent of the TWL Committee and is the only statement TWL will issue in relation to this matter at this stage.

** This statement is made by the Tasmanian Women Lawyers Committee. Any opinions or views expressed in this statement are those of the TWL Committee and not the views of any specific person, organisation or institution that the committee members may be associated with. Due to the urgent nature of this issue, it was not possible to fully consult with the entire TWL membership prior to making this statement.

 

19 February 2021