Andrew Little reaffirms commitment to tackling workplace harassment

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has reconfirmed his commitment to holding the legal profession to account over sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Former lawyer Olivia Wensley, who recently spoke out about her own experience of sexual harassment, met with the Minister today to talk about the issue.

While he has made no promises to Ms Wensley, she feels reassured he is serious about the problem.

"I came away feeling confident he understood the issue and would do what was required to protect individuals."

Ms Wensley told the Minister she wants New Zealand to follow the lead of the United Kingdom's legal governing body (The Solicitors Regulatory Authority) and update its Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2008 "to expressly forbid harassment, bullying and discrimination".

Currently the Act does not specify the behaviour - which she says contributes to the under-reporting identified in the Criminal Bar Association Survey, released last weekend.

Ms Wensley says the Minister is open to the 10-year-old legislation being reviewed.

Ms Wensley also expressed her concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the Law Society governing the professionals it also issues practising certificates to.

The pair also spoke about mandatory reporting obligations - and the need to make it clearer that lawyers must report harassment, discrimination and abuse when they witnessed it.

As well as being approached by hundreds of lawyers, after writing about her own experience, Ms Wensley has also heard from victims in the health and finance industries.

"Mr Little and I also discussed the wider context and acknowledged it was a problem for other industries."

She says the pair will meet in the future to further discuss the issue.

"Andrew did say there was a public interest in lawyers not abusing their power."

Ms Wensley also met with the Law Society's President Kathryn Beck and Executive Director Mary Ollivier today to discuss the problem.

She raised her concerns that perpetrators of harassment and bullying are given insufficient consequences.

Ms Wensley says she feels satisfied the Law Society is now taking the issue seriously and believes the Criminal Bar Association survey helped instigate that change.

"Half of the battle was convincing everyone there was a problem. That is why I stood up and said this happened to me," Ms Wensley says.

"Everyone agrees now that action needs to be taken."

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