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Independent inquiry confirms urgency of culture change

The New Zealand Law Society says an independent inquiry into alleged sexual assaults and harassment at law firm Russell McVeagh highlights the urgent need for cultural reform across the legal profession.

Dame Margaret Bazley today released her report into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at Russell McVeagh.

Law Society President Kathryn Beck has thanked Dame Margaret for her inquiry, and for the courage of the people who caused it to be initiated. She says the report is another indictment on the culture that has been allowed to quietly grow in the New Zealand legal profession.

“I want to be clear that while this report is about appalling events and a dysfunctional culture, we should not for a minute believe this is isolated to one firm.

“There is nothing to suggest that the issues that have been documented in this report have not occurred elsewhere – the structures, cultures and work practices are common across the profession. These structures and cultures have historically served to keep issues like these out of the public eye and from being properly dealt with.

“We now know through our Workplace Environment Survey that almost one in three female lawyers have been sexually harassed in the workplace and that the legal profession has failed to create a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace.

“Every lawyer in New Zealand must now commit to turning this around and building a just culture that we can all be proud of and which the public of New Zealand expect.

“We are committed to making the Law Society more accessible than it has been in the past and to driving a cultural change programme across the legal profession. The Law Society has received a number of complaints around harassment and bullying over recent months.

“Following the outpouring of complaints and allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace over the last six months we have acknowledged that there must be a concerted programme to change the culture of our profession.

“This report is another important milestone in shining light into the dark corners of our profession and will help us to build the culture our profession needs.”

Ms Beck says the Law Society is currently recruiting lawyers onto a taskforce charged with driving changes required to eliminate and prevent sexual harassment and bullying from the profession.

She says there have been a large number of lawyers putting themselves forward for these voluntary positions and she expects to complete the recruitment process over the coming months.

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