Review into sexual harassment in Victorian courts underway

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday October 9, 2020

What’s the likelihood of a person who refuses to get the COVID vaccine bringing an unfair dismissal claim before the courts? Very likely. (Image: Adobe/Craig)

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is inviting anyone who has experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in a Victorian court or tribunal to share their stories.

Led by former VEOHRC commissioner Dr Helen Szoke and supported by VEOHRC, the review into sexual harassment in Victorian courts aims to find ways to build a culture that prevents sexual harassment, give people the confidence to speak up, and call out sexual harassment where it occurs.

Szoke is currently a member of the Judicial Commission of Victoria. She has previously served as race discrimination commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission, and chief executive officer for Oxfam Australia.

The review will consider sexual harassment in Victoria’s courts and VCAT, covering judges, VCAT members and magistrates, Court Services Victoria employees (including volunteers and contractors), and people working in court or VCAT buildings (such as a lawyers and advocates, interpreters and mediators).

It follows recent revelations about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the legal sector, prompted by allegations made against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, and the release of the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner’s report on sexual harassment in Victoria’s legal sector.

According to the report, 36% of legal professionals said they had personally experienced sexual harassment while working in the legal sector, with one in four indicating they had experienced sexual harassment in the legal sector within the last 12 months, and 57% within the last 5 years.

Read more: The law is a man’s world. Unless the culture changes, women will continue to be talked over, marginalised and harassed

The review was announced in July by state attorney-general Jill Hennessy and Anne Ferguson, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and Courts Council chair.

The review won’t examine individual complaints, but submissions will help shape its recommendations, the commission has said.

Individuals can request a confidential interview to share their experience in a safe and supportive environment. They can also share their experience via a hotline on 1300 395 726 between 10am and 4pm on weekdays, through [email protected], or via an online form. Organisations can also make a submission.

VEOHRC says all submissions will be treated confidentially, as the agency is “committed to providing a safe and supportive process”.

Submissions close on October 30, but VEOHRC hopes to have all interview participants registered by October 16.


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