Changes coming to processes for handling inappropriate behaviour reports

The current reporting regime has problems and shortcomings

Changes coming to processes for handling inappropriate behaviour reports

After finding flaws in the current reporting regime, the New Zealand Law Society has announced coming changes to the processes for handling inappropriate behaviour in the legal profession.

The announcement came after the review of the legal profession’s regulatory framework, handled by a working group chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright, identified several problems with the reporting regime. The group concluded that regulatory mechanisms and processes that are in place to deal with complaints of sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination, are not fit for purpose.

The Law Society said that its board has accepted the recommendations made in the report, which was presented to the board by the working group on 7 December.

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The changes include new rules for lawyers that specifically require high personal and professional standards in cases of alleged sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and other unacceptable behaviour.

The group also proposed a specific prohibition on victimisation of people who report unacceptable behaviour in good faith. They also suggested the imposition of minimum obligations on legal workplaces or lawyers who are responsible for workplaces, including auditing and monitoring of compliance and a ban on the use of non-disclosure agreements to contract out or conceal unacceptable behaviour.

A more flexible, two-stage approach to confidentiality for complaints about sexual violence, bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and related conduct was also suggested. The Law Society said that group also called for a specialised process for dealing with complaints of unacceptable behaviour.

Other changes will be to the procedures of the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal. Mandatory training and education of lawyers to address culture problems in the legal profession will also be examined.

“Dame Silvia and the other four members have provided valuable information and insights into the issues involved. They have consulted widely and they have developed several recommendations. We thank them for their careful and thoughtful report,” said Kathryn Beck, Law Society president. “We wanted to know what was wrong with the current system and have received compelling independent answers, including that conduct and reporting standards are unclear and must be addressed so to remove any confusion over what is expected of all lawyers.”

The Law Society has advised Justice Minister Andrew Little of the report’s recommendations. The top body expects to meet with the minister in the new year to get his feedback and discuss how the changes can be implemented.

“The Law Society will now develop a programme to determine how they can be put into effect. Some of the recommendations are currently outside the mandate of the Law Society and require legislative change. The Law Society will work in consultation with the government, the profession and other organisations to achieve the appropriate outcome,” Beck said.

“As indicated in the working group’s report, and as with all legislative change, it will be important to take care to ensure there are no unintended consequences. A consultative and collaborative approach is needed, and this is essential to ensure we achieve our objective of healthy, safe, respectful and inclusive legal workplaces,” she said.

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