Survey reveals shocking extent of harassment and bullying in NZ legal profession

Almost 90 percent of criminal lawyers who participated in a survey had either witnessed or experienced some form of harassment or bullying in the workplace.

The voluntary and anonymous survey was conducted by the Criminal Bar Association of NZ (CBA) and 300 people took part, nearly two-thirds of them women.

Of those who reported harassment and bullying, 27 percent said they witnessed or experienced threats, both overt and covert, with 28 percent reporting unwanted sexual advances.

"It's insulting, mocking-type behaviour - 70 percent of people who responded said that that was an issue," the CBA's Elizabeth Hall told Newshub Nation.

Forty-five percent reported harassment and bullying based on gender.

In 55 percent of cases reported, the person doing the harassing was male while the target was female.

"Criticism which is unjustified or baseless. Shouting at people. And of course - hot on the table today - unwelcome sexual attention," Ms Hall said.

"Twenty-eight percent of the people that responded said that they had witnessed or experienced that in the last four years."

The survey also asked to name who was perpetrating the bullying and harassment, and 65 percent of those surveyed pointed at judges.

Nearly half of those surveyed pointed at their colleagues, with a third naming the opposing counsel. Nearly a quarter of respondents blamed police officers or prosecutors.

New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck says the behaviour isn't new.

"The thing that we're really hearing now - and we're listening to very strongly - is that it's not just the odd case here and there, this is a major problem. It's far more prevalent than I think anyone anticipated."

When asked what effect the harassment and bullying had on the victim, half of respondents reported anxiety and 61 percent reported a reduced desire to work in the field.

Forty percent of respondents reported a breakdown of their professional working relationship.

When asked if they'd ever made an official report on the bullying, over 80 percent of the respondents said no.

Of those who did make a complaint, only six percent reported being satisfied with the way it was handled.

Over half of those who didn't make a complaint said they didn't speak out because they were afraid of professional repercussions, and almost 60 percent said they thought it wouldn't have made any difference.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue isn't surprised by the findings.

There is evidence of a real problem in New Zealand workplaces, she says - a 2012 survey by the Public Service Association found 43 percent had been bullied and 33 percent discriminated against, while a State Services Commission survey in 2013 discovered 25 percent reported bullying.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias has released a statement addressing the survey, stating:

"Bullying of counsel is not acceptable. That is made clear in the Guidelines for
Judicial Conduct. If it is occurring I and the heads of the bench want to know about it
and we want to stop it."

"If proper standards are not observed, I encourage those who are affected or who
have observed such behaviour to raise their concerns with the head of bench or with
me or to make a complaint to the Independent Judicial Conduct Commissioner."

The Chief Justice said it is difficult to tell from the survey whether the concerns
expressed about judges were confined to in-court conduct perceived as overbearing
or belittling or whether it extends to other conduct which should not be tolerated.

The Chief Justice said she would be discussing the survey findings with the Criminal
Bar Association to understand the concerns that have been expressed and
what steps should be taken to address them.

Newshub Nation.

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