Law Council unveils national action plan to combat sexual harassment in the profession

The plan sets out “a framework for change,” says the organisation’s president

Law Council unveils national action plan to combat sexual harassment in the profession

The Law Council of Australia has recently unveiled its national action plan to combat sexual harassment in the legal profession.

“Eliminating sexual harassment in the legal profession is part of the Law Council’s long-running commitment to inclusion and diversity in the legal profession,” the organisation said in a 23 December media release. The National Action Plan to Reduce Sexual Harassment in the Australian Legal Profession (NAP) “heralds the start of a united and coordinated process to address the issue.”

Law Council President Pauline Wright said that the national action plan factors in both regulatory and cultural change aspects that can improve the experiences of legal professionals. She pointed out that outlining specific law reform proposals as Law Council policy positions is one way to facilitate the elimination of sexual harassment in the profession.

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Among the recommendations of the NAP is advocacy for federal law reform amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). This includes the introduction of positive duties, the expansion of aiding and abetting sexual harassment provisions and the clarification of the position of civil actions for victimisation as unlawful discrimination, the Law Council said.

The organisation also aims to support the Australian Human Rights Commission with regard to putting together a workplace sexual harassment council, harmonising federal and state and territory discrimination laws and launching education and training programs for judicial officers and tribunal members.

Moreover, the Law Council is pushing for change in the legal profession’s culture by proposing reformulations in Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules. In addition, the organisation seeks to develop a national model for a sexual harassment policy and guidelines, as well as of educational tools and a central information hub.

The Law Council also aims to provide support to sexual harassment victims by enabling a consistent process for complaints, as well as the consideration of bystander provisions. Moreover, the organisation looks to aid its constituent bodies in establishing professional development training programs.

Finally, the Law Council has advocated for the launch of a Federal Judicial Commission.

Wright said that the NAP would undergo a process of review and refinement “as the measures are developed and implemented in consultation with the Law Council’s constituent bodies.”

“The NAP and the measures proposed will not solve every problem relevant to sexual harassment,” Wright said. “It is important to note that this is a living document setting out a framework for change, the specifics of which will continue to evolve as each measure is developed.”

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