Minister of Justice fast tracking ‘hate speech’ legislation review

Minister of Justice Andrew Little says he is fast-tracking a review of legislation to look at ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate speech’. This could possibly lead to more specific laws to cover them.

However ‘fast-tracking’ does not necessarily mean a sudden knee-jerk lurch to draconian laws as some are saying is already happening. Little hopes to have aa proposal by the end of the year, and that would then have to go through Cabinet for approval and then through Parliament, so any changes look like being at least a year away – in election year,

1 News: Andrew Little plans fast-track review of hate speech laws

Justice Minister Andew Little says he’s fast-tracking a law review which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

He said the current law on hate speech was not thorough and strong enough and needed to change.

Mr Little said the Christchurch shootings highlighted the need for a better mechanism to deal with incidents of hate speech and other hateful deeds.

It isn’t unusual for an unprecedented crime to prompt a rethink of things that could be contributory factors (it happened after the Aramoana massacre). Firearm regulation and law changes are actually being fast-tracked, not just a review of them – and order in Council has already reclassified many types of semi-automatic weapons, and it is expected the legislation will go before Parliament next week.

He has asked justice officials to look at the laws and he was also fast-tracking a scheduled Human Rights Act review. “The conclusion I’ve drawn as the minister is that the laws are inadequate and I think we need to do better,” Mr Little said.

Mr Little said the current laws dealing with hate speech and complaints about hate speech and discriminatory action that relate to hateful expression were lacking.

The law in the Human Rights Act related to racial disharmony, but it didn’t deal with various other grounds of discrimination, he said.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was put in place to deal with online bullying and other unpleasantness, but it didn’t tackle the “evil and hateful things that we’re seeing online”, Mr Little said.

He said the government and the Human Rights Commission will work together, and a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate.

Note “a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate”. It will be important to have a decent public debate about whatever is proposed.

“There will be important issues to debate. There will be issues about what limit should be put on freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

“We should reflect on where the lines need to be drawn and therefore, whether the laws should be struck so that they’re effective and provide some protection to people who’re otherwise vulnerable.”

I think it is going to be quite difficult trying to define hate speech and hate crime in legislation. And also to get a reasonable balance between protection from hate speech and free speech.

Stuff: Hate crime law review fast-tracked following Christchurch mosque shootings

Currently, hate-motivated hostility can be considered an “aggravating factor” in sentencing, and staff can note when a crime was motivated by a “common characteristic” such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Overall, there is no way of knowing how many offences are hate crimes and police do not even routinely record the ethnicity of victims.

Little said he had asked the Justice Ministry to look at relevant aspects of the Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and sections of the Crimes Act to see what laws needed to be changed or added.

“I certainly think that the laws dealing with what we call ‘hate speech’, and human rights law, are woefully inadequate,” Little said.

The tolerance for what had been considered acceptable had been too high, he said. Ethnic minorities needed to not only be accepted, but embraced and welcomed.

“It’s timely to make sure that for those who would want to hurt others – even through words – that we can curtail that.”

Somehow a legal line has to be drawn between fair reporting and debate, and speech aimed at hurting, intimidating, alienating.

The Human Rights Commission collects “race-related complaints” but says it has an incomplete picture of the problem. It has been calling for a national recording system to be set up.

The commission’s chief legal advisor Janet Anderson Bidois said there were “grave anomalies” in the current law.

“For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits the ‘incitement of disharmony’ on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins, but it does not cover incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation,” she said.

“We maintain that a discussion about our current hate speech laws is overdue, and that urgent action is required in relation to the recording of hate crimes.”

This will be a challenge for all of us.

Especially as the review has been prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks, a lot of discussion will focus on Islam and Muslims, who have been ostracised and targeted in generalised attacks that go further than criticism.

Some attacks on Muslims have become quite sophisticated, trying to couch attacks in reasonable terms. One common tactic is to cherry pick pieces out of old religious texts and imply this is representative of  all Muslims, including by implication Muslims in New Zealand.

Claims of justification because ‘it is just facts’ don’t wash – it is easy to group selected ‘facts’ (often actually quotes from historic texts, which aren’t facts) in a derogatory or fear-mongering manner.

The same tactic can be used by cherry picking bits out of the Old Testament to smear modern Christians, but it is done far more to blanket smear modern Muslims who have a wide variety of practices and cultures.

It will be hard to stop hate and fear and intolerance of other cultures, races and religions – this can be ingrained in some people.

It will also be hard to prevent this hate and fear and intolerance being used to attack groups of people, while still allowing for relatively free speech and open discussion about things that are pertinent to life in New Zealand.

This is also a challenge for social media and blog moderators.

I will do what I can to encourage debate proposals to change hate speech and hate crime laws, but preventing these discussions from becoming hateful or from mass targeting where it is not warranted by circumstances.

An irreverent review of the 2018 political year

The year of 2018 welcomed a Prime Ministerial baby, the collapse of two Ministerial careers and a kamikaze takedown of the Opposition. Political reporter Craig McCulloch takes an irreverent (by RNZ standards) look back on the biggest stories of 2018.

Audio (RNZ) – Focus on Politics: 2018 in Review

Massey University review clears chancellor over Brash ‘ban’

I’m suspicious of inquiry and review reports being made public just before Christmas – a time thought to be good to bury news as people are distracted by Christmas and holidays.

Putting something to a review in the first place sometimes seems to have a purpose of defusing and even burying contentious issues.

Another review has just been released:  Review clears Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas over Don Brash ban

A review has cleared Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas of wrongdoing in cancelling a Don Brash speaking event.

Brash and Thomas have been at the centre of a freedom-of-speech debate since former National Party leader Brash was prevented from speaking at the university’s Manawatū campus in August.

Thomas cancelled the venue booking for Brash’s planned visit, citing security and other concerns, but it was later revealed Thomas didn’t want the university to be seen endorsing racist behaviours, and she was uncomfortable with Brash’s leadership of lobby group Hobson’s Pledge.

Consulting firm Martin Jenkins reviewed the decision to cancel the event and the following fallout.

The review found Thomas did not intend to stop the event before a security threat was made and that she didn’t lie about the reasons for cancelling the booking.

But it said she did not fully explore alternative options, which opened the university up to criticism about the potential security threat not being genuine.

It didn’t just ‘open up the university’ to speculation and criticism, they were blasted.

The review recommended if the university were to face similar circumstances it should thoroughly assess the threat before deciding whether to cancel the use of a venue.

“This process, the criteria for the assessment, and who should provide such an assessment should be part of a formal university policy,” the report read.

Perhaps they could set up a review to assess any urgent threats, and release the report on the review several months later.

Brash is still critical.

Brash found the report’s findings “profoundly disappointing”.

“It’s a document that seems to whitewash what the vice-chancellor did and to my mind the behaviour at the time was disgraceful by the vice-chancellor.

“Does the vice-chancellor believe in free speech or not? That’s the profound and fundamental question.

“The report seems to say ‘not necessarily’ – if free speech conflicts with the vice-chancellor’s interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

Brash, who wasn’t contacted for the review, thought the report would have expressed concern about the way things were handled.

I guess Thomas was contacted for the review, so at least she had an opportunity to defend her actions.

Thomas has said it wasn’t a ban, but an event cancellation.

Use whatever semantics you like, but Thomas made it clear she thought that it wasn’t appropriate for Brash, an ex party leader, to speak to a political group at Massey about politics. And her cancellation of the event ensured Brash couldn’t speak on campus ()he has since been to Massey to speak).

 

 

 

 

Rankin, Ardern, Peters respond to Parliament’s bullying and harassment review

The behaviour of MP versus MP is not included in the Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament, it is dealing with staff only, but it has raised the issue of poor behaviour from MPs.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard’s past behaviour in Parliament has been pointed out, including a conviction for fighting with another MP and attacks on a consultant. In 2007 Mallard pleads guilty to fighting, says sorry to consultant

Mallard pleaded not guilty to an assault charge, but today pleaded guilty to the lesser fighting charge and agreed to pay $500 to the Salvation Army’s Bridge drug and alcohol programme.

Shortly after the conclusion of the hearing, Mallard apologised in Parliament to Ms Leigh, who he had been accused of unfairly attacking under parliamentary privilege.

And yesterday, in response to Mallard launching the review – ‘He was a bully’: Christine Rankin accuses ‘crude’ Trevor Mallard of bullying

Former Work and Income NZ chief executive Christine Rankin says she was subjected to a campaign of bullying from senior ministers who wanted her out – and that Speaker Trevor Mallard was among them.

“I think anyone can look back on my situation 18 years ago and accept that it was the biggest bullying situation that has ever happened in this country that we know of,” she told Newshub.

She says she was taunted and comments were made about the way she looked. She claims she was even told that her earrings were a “sexual come-on”.

“Incidents have occurred over many years in these buildings which are unacceptable,” said Mr Mallard when announcing the inquiry earlier this week.

Ms Rankin says she was relentlessly bullied by senior Labour Party ministers after they took power in 1999, and that group included now-Speaker Mr Mallard.

“He was a bully,” she told Newshub. “They were all bullies and they revelled in it.”

She says ministers would whisper and laugh about her during meetings – with Mr Mallard using language that still makes her too uncomfortable to repeat.

“He was crude and rude and it was directed at me.”

Mallard has probably changed a lot since then, especially since he took on the responsibility of Speaker. His past behaviour shouldn’t stop him from addressing that sort of behaviour now. Tolerance of harassment has significantly diminished.

Parliament should set an example (a good example) to the population, and the review is a good to do this.

Hopefully MPs will learn something from it. Robust debate is an essential part of a healthy democracy, but in the past MP behaviour has gone far further than that with attacks on opponents capable of being seen as bullying and harassment.

Quite contrasting reactions from Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters has ‘no idea’ why bullying review into Parliament is taking place

Most MPs welcomed the review, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Parliament was not immune to such issues.

“It is high pressure. There’s long hours. There’s no excuse, though, for that to result in poor behaviour, so it’s worthwhile to undertake this exercise,” Ardern said.

But someone’s nose seems to be out of joint – or perhaps there are feelings of guilt.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has poured cold water on Parliament’s review of workplace bullying and harassment, saying he has “no idea” why it is taking place.

Peters said he had not been consulted, adding that being told in advance did not amount to consultation.

“I’ve got no idea why this is being requested by the Speaker at all. I have not been consulted on that matter, so I’m not prepared to make any comment at all.”

Asked if he supported the review, Peters said: “We’ll find out when the review happens.”

He joked that the media had subjected him to bullying.

“I’m going to tell the interviewer that the only person being seriously bullied around this place for a long time is one Winston Peters – by people like you.”

Given Peters’ use of the media to attack people that’s ironic.

And given Peters’ manner towards journalists trying to interview him the question of bullying could easily be put to him – but Peters has long used attack as a form of defence.

At least Mallard has recognised moves to address and reduce poor MP behaviour, seemingly having learned from his own mistakes and unsatisfactory behaviour in the past.

If anything Peters is getting worse now he is in one of the most powerful positions he has attained in Parliament. A sense that his longevity in Parliament gives him some sort of right to act as he pleases highlights how out of step his combative and cantankerous approach is in the modern world of politics and in society in general).

National target Government over committee can kicking

The National opposition has increased criticism on the Government over the many working groups, reviews, inquiries and committees they have set up. Labour has tried to play down the assistance they have sought.

The big news from Jacinda Ardern’s business confidence speech yesterday was the announcement of the setting up of a ‘business advisory council’. A chairman only has been announced so far.

This was a day after National launched this Twitter campaign:

Simon Bridges reacted to the Business Advisory Council announcement:

This means a third of the economic announcements so far from this Govt are working groups.

That brings the total number of working groups set up by this Govt on business issues to 10 & counting. This gives businesses no certainty.

I think the PM needs a new rubber stamp. The “set up a committee” one is wearing out.

The Government have a problem reacting to this, as the results of the many committees will not be known for months or years.

The Opposition campaign has been running for months.

The bill for the Government’s constant outsourcing of its job to 152 working groups and reviews has reached $170 million so far, with a third still to be costed, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

What’s worse is the Government doesn’t know the cost of over a third of the 152 working groups and reviews announced to date.

“This is a Government caught badly unprepared and New Zealanders are now paying an exorbitant price. And now we know Ministers are ordering reviews and setting up groups without even knowing what they will cost, while the reviews are coming back with recommendations for more reviews.

The Government has sometimes responded.

I saw Ardern disputing National’s numbers last week but can’t find coverage of that.

Every Government sets up external groups too help them research and set policies and to investigate issues of concern. When National took over Government in 2008 they used a lot of committees etc.

But it does seem that there have been a lot announced since the Labour led Government took over last year, and national will no doubt keep highlighting any new ones.

The Government will have to get some tangible outcomes, but that may be some time off yet.

One of their major reviews is on the tax system, but whatever that recommends Labour has committed to make no tax changes this term.

The Government is at risk of being seen as synonymous with committee can kicking down the road. Until they start getting tangible outcomes from all these advisory groups and reviews the Opposition are likely to keep hammering away.

Auckland school principals challenge Minister of Education

Advertisements placed by nearly 40 secondary school principals challenging the Minister of Education Chris Hipkin’s NCEA review is another indication about the lack of process and consultation plaguing the Government.

Hipkins on 27 of May:  Big, bold ideas to change NCEA – do you agree?

Radically changing NCEA Level 1 and better involving families and students in the design of courses students take are among the six big ideas in a NCEA Review discussion document released by Education Minister Chris Hipkins today.

The ideas were developed by my Ministerial Advisory Group to challenge thinking and provoke debate on updating our national school-leaving qualification,” Mr Hipkins says.

“Public consultation begins today and runs till 16 September.

“It’s really important the public has their say and I’m calling on them to take part.

But principals are complaining about not being given a say.

Today Newshub: High school principals challenge Education Minister Chis Hipkins over NCEA review

Nearly 40 secondary school principals are challenging the Minister of Education’s NCEA review.

On Sunday, they published full-page newspaper ads grading Chris Hipkins’ review a “fail” and damning the process as rushed, flawed and without proper consultation.

“Too rushed, Minister Hipkins, not enough thought. Must do better for our young people,” the ad reads.

The Principals NCEA Coalition says it represents more than 45,000 students from private, integrated and state schools, ranging from decile 1 to 10.

“We are a coalition of principals passionate about our young people and their secondary school education. We want the best possible education for the next generation – including a New Zealand qualification framework accessible to all students.

“We agree a review of NCEA is necessary because the framework can be improved to better prepare our young people for the challenges ahead. However, the review is flawed and we will not stand idle on the sidelines watching a fraught process pass us by.”

ACT leader David Seymour says he supports the principals, and is calling for Mr Hipkins to halt the review.

“If he is not prepared to do that, then he must modify it to incorporate the principals’ requests, consult them directly, focus on curriculum first, then review the administration of the NCEA.

“If he won’t do that, it will be difficult to see Hipkins’ education consultations as anything more than insincerely manufacturing consent for a predetermined agenda.”

‘Insincerely manufacturing consent for a predetermined agenda’ seems too be far too typical of a Government that seems to be increasingly going ahead with changes while ignoring advice and talking up to consultation but barely paying lip service to it.

Major review of health system

This one is called a Review but it seems to be similar to the scores of working groups and committees and inquiries set up by the Government.

A major health Review, to be chaired by Heather Simpson, senior staffer for Helen Clark when she was Prime minister and also in when working for the UN, and I think also assisting the current prime Minister’s office, will report back by January 2020.

That is unlikely to leave enough time to make any major changes prior to the election, but will likely provide for a  basis for Labour-Green campaign policy.


Major review of health system launched

Health Minister Dr David Clark has announced a wide-ranging review designed to future-proof our health and disability services.

“New Zealanders are generally well served by our health services, particularly when they are seriously unwell or injured. Overall we are living longer and healthier lives – but we also face major challenges,” says David Clark.

“The Review of the New Zealand Health and Disability Sector will be wide-ranging and firmly focused on a fairer future. It will look at the way we structure, resource and deliver health services – not just for the next few years but for decades to come.

“We need to face up to the fact that our health system does not deliver equally well for all. We know our Māori and Pacific peoples have worse health outcomes and shorter lives. That is something we simply cannot accept.

“We also need to get real about the impact of a growing and aging population, and the increase in chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. Those issues in turn create pressure on services and the health workforce that need to be addressed for the long term sustainability of our public health service.

“The Review will include a strong focus on primary and community based care. We want to make sure people get the health care they need to stay well. Early intervention and prevention work can also help take pressure off our hospitals and specialist services.

“People rightly have high expectations of our public health service. As Health Minister I want to ensure we can meet those expectations now and into the future,” says David Clark.

The Review will be chaired by Heather Simpson, who is perhaps best known as Chief of Staff to Helen Clark from 1999-2008 but also has a background in health economics. The Review will provide an interim report by the end of July 2019 and a final report by 31 January 2020.

 

The review would culminate in a report to Government, including recommendations, on:

  • How the health system can improve accessibility and outcomes for all populations
  • Whether the health system promotes the right balance between availability of services,
    (particularly tertiary services) population density and proximity
  • Whether the current system is well-placed to deal with environmental challenges such as climate
    change, antibiotic resistance and technological advances
  • Whether there are changes that can be made to the health system that would make it fairer,
    more equitable and effective
  • How the technological and global healthcare context is evolving, what opportunities and risks
    this rapidly-evolving context presents, and whether there are changes that would support the
    health system to adapt effectively given the rapid changes underway.

In examining the points above, the review would consider the following:

  • Demographic impacts – what the predicted population changes are, their potential impacts
    upon service demand, workforce availability and risks that may need to be managed
  • The international landscape – what New Zealand might learn from examining where health
    systems are heading internationally and what the impacts are, including input from relevant
    international organisations such as the OECD, World Health Organisation and the
    Commonwealth Fund
  • Decisions around distribution of healthcare resources, capacity of the health system to deliver
    care and clinical effectiveness (quality and safety) – e.g. how does the current geographic
    distribution of services help or hinder the system as a whole
  • Funding – how financial resources applied to health funding could be altered to provide
    greater flexibility in allocation, better transparency of return on investment, better support
    innovation in service mix/design and investment in key enablers, and reduce inequities
    through targeting those in need
  • Investment practices – providing a nation-wide view of how much infrastructure will be
    needed, over what timeframe and the balance to be struck across service provision and
    delivery
  • Ways to support the increasing priority of the role primary care and prevention has within the
    wider heath service
  • Potential opportunities and risks associated with rapidly emerging technological advances and
    the implications for, including but not limited to, clinical tools and settings, communication and
    transport
  • Institutional arrangements – roles and responsibilities, funding, accountability and delivery
    arrangements.

[DRAFT] Health and Disability Review Terms of Reference.pdf

Labour sexual assault review – terms of reference

Labour has released the terms of reference for the review into the sexual assault issues at the Young Labour summer camp. It will take 2-3 months, and all Labour Party members will be contacted.


Maria Berryman Review: Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference for the Berryman review have been finalised.

  1. Ms. Berryman will inquire and report on:
    1. all Labour Party policies and procedures in relation to Young Labour events, that existed as of February 2018, having regard to all relevant legislation;
    2. whether such policies and procedures were applied correctly in respect of the February 2018 Young Labour summer camp;
    3. whether the policies and procedures, when correctly applied, adequately support the Labour Party’s objective of providing a safe environment for members and participants;
    4. all Labour Party policies and procedures in relation to the planning and management of events and the handling of complaints, having regard to all relevant legislation;
    5. whether such policies and procedures were applied correctly in respect of the February 2018 allegations;
    6. whether the policies and procedures, when correctly applied, reflect best practice.
  2. The Reviewer will not investigate or make findings about the specific allegations of sexual assault, except to the extent of how the policies and processes were applied in relation to the events prior to, and after, the alleged assaults.
  3. The Reviewer will make any recommendations for change that she thinks appropriate.
  4. In addition, because the possibility of at least one other incident of a similar nature has been raised in the media, the Reviewer will also be available to, and will establish processes to:
    1. receive any other concerns of issues that any person may wish to raise in relation to previous events (either relating to Young Labour or the Labour Party more generally); and
    2. take such steps as she considers appropriate in relation to those other issues, having regard to the wishes of those who raise them with her. Those steps may include recommendations to the Labour Party Council.

“Ms Berryman is commencing immediately with the initial focus of her investigation on the Young Labour camp in February. The review is expected to take between two and three months,” said Nigel Haworth, Labour Party President.

“A statement will be issued when the review has been completed, outlining any recommendations as well as the steps the Labour Party will be taking to implement them.

“All members of the Party will be contacted in relation to the review.

“Historical cases may be brought to Ms Berryman’s attention by sending details of the case to: labourreview@kensingtonswan.com

“This address will be confidential to Ms Berryman and will be available on our website at www.labour.org.nz.

“The Labour Party will fully cooperate with Ms Berryman’s requirements in the completion of her review.

“Labour will not be commenting further while this investigation is underway,” said Haworth.

Tomorrow’s Schools review terms of reference

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has announced the terms of reference for the review into Tomorrow’s Schools:


The terms of reference for a review of Tomorrow’s Schools released today sets the framework for a once in 30-year opportunity to shape the way our schools are led, managed and interact with their communities, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

“There’s been a lot of tinkering around the edges since Tomorrrow’s Schools was introduced, which has moved the governance, management and administration of schools further and further away from what it aimed to achieve. 

“This broad-based review gives schools, students and communities the opportunity to take part in drawing the blueprint for how schools should be organised from here on.

“It will look at how we can better support equity and inclusion for all children throughout their schooling, what changes are needed to support their educational success, and at the fitness of our school system to equip all our students for a rapidly changing world.

“The review will consider how schools might interact differently with their communities, with other schools, with employers, and with other government organisations, to serve the best interests of our young people.”       

An independent five-to-seven person taskforce will be appointed in April, which will consult widely before reporting back in November this year.

“The review is part of the Government’s championing of a high quality public education system,” Mr Hipkins said.

“We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to be the best they can be, regardless of where they live, or their personal circumstances. And we want to ensure our schools deliver that opportunity for all New Zealanders.

 “A key priority is for our schooling system will be to be more responsive to the needs of Māori and Pasifika children and those children needing learning support for whom the education system has not delivered in the past,” Mr Hipkins said.

The review will also consider the roles of the Ministry of Education, Education Review Office, New Zealand Qualifications Authority, New Zealand School Trustees Association, and the Education Council in supporting schools.

The review of Tomorrow’s Schools is part of the Government’s education work programme, announced in February. The terms of reference for the review are available at www.education.govt.nz/tsr

Law Society “to fix sexual harassment and misconduct in the profession”

The Law Society acknowledges there are problems within the profession regarding sexual harassment and misconduct.

RNZ – ‘We know that there is an issue with the system’

Justice Minister Andrew Little has said he would consider a ministerial inquiry if the Society’s work to fix sexual harassment and misconduct in the profession was not up to scratch.

Mr Little said yesterday he had heard reports that the society had ignored serious allegations of this nature in the past.

He said he had no problem intervening if the Society wasn’t up to the job.

“The option I would have would really be a ministerial inquiry, something of that sort of nature, to represent a public interest in ensuring that the Law Society does its job of making sure that the profession is one that has standards, including standards of conduct towards its own employees, that’s what’s in question at the moment.”

The Law Society is trying to address the issue. They have set up a ‘working group’.

The move comes after law firm Russell McVeagh was put in the spotlight over allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and an alleged incident of sexual assault.

President Kathryn Beck said she understood why the minister was concerned but the organisation – which regulates lawyers – was ready to make a change.

“We know that there is an issue with the system if we’re not hearing about these things, either because people don’t know that that’s where they should go or they are not comfortable going there, either way we need to fix that.”

The Law Society on their working group:

Law Society announces working group to focus on sexual harassment reporting

The New Zealand Law Society is establishing a working group to consider what improvements can be made to enable better reporting of harassment in the legal profession to the Law Society.

“There is no place for a culture of sexual harassment in our profession. It must stop. The Law Society is determined to do all it can to tackle a complex issue in an innovative and practical manner,” Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.

“As regulator of the practice of law the Law Society fully appreciates that it must always assess whether the regulatory framework in place is flexible enough to meet current needs.”

“It is essential that all lawyers are able to practise in a workplace environment in which they are free from any harassment. The working group will look at whether the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 and its associated rules and regulations allow us to take effective action.”

Ms Beck says the members of the working group, their terms of reference and the timeframe will be announced shortly.

“This is one of a number of actions the Law Society is taking to address a matter which impacts on all lawyers and their clients. The public discussion has been sobering but it has also highlighted matters that we need to resolve so we can be more proactive without re-victimising victims.

“Alongside our processes, we have looked at the practical actions which are needed to openly and fully address the issue of sexual harassment in the legal profession. This includes providing support for people who are affected by it.

“Over 2017 the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel looked at harassment as well as other matters blocking the advancement of women in the profession. It decided that the issue of harassment required its own project and focus, to be further progressed after launch of the Gender Equality Charter in April. This work has been brought forward. Clearly action is needed now.

“What are we aiming for? We must focus on the culture and underlying assumptions which exist in some law firms and legal workplaces. As with the Gender Equality Charter, the change has to come from inside, driven and assisted from outside.”

Ms Beck says the Law Society’s plan of action includes:

  • Development of an online portal and dedicated helpline which enables reporting of concerns related to workplace harassment. The objective is to make it easier for people to raise and discuss sensitive matters arising in their workplace.
  • A free webinar on harassment which will be available to all lawyers. This will be a similar format to the very successful unconscious bias webinar delivered last year.
  • Completion of a review of the National Friends Panel and identifying or recruiting members who are particularly well placed to provide support and advice on sensitive matters.
  • The Law Society will organise and facilitate meetings of key interest groups such as those for women lawyers and young lawyers to look at the issues, what needs to be done and to develop appropriate resources.
  • A national survey of all lawyers which looks at the current workplace environment for legal practice is being scoped. As well as seeking information on harassment, this will also include questions on stress and wellbeing.
  • Development of more local branch and national events which address how to deal with difficult people, bullying and harassment.
  • Provision of more information and practical guidance through Law Society publications, beginning with the April issue of LawTalk.
  • Inclusion of information which addresses harassment and bullying in Law Society publications for young lawyers.
  • Development and maintenance of centralised information resources and support available from organisations both within and outside the legal profession. This will draw upon the Practising Well initiative.

It looks like a lot of work involved there, to review all those issues, and to implement the suggested measures.