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  • Victorian judges, magistrates accused of bullying
  • By Shannon Deery
  • 18/10/2018 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Pina ( 12 articles in 2018 )
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VICTORIAN judges and magistrates have been accused of routine bullying in a damning report released today.

Judges have been accused of regularly abusing, humiliating, belittling and personally attacking lawyers appearing before them.

The landmark Victorian Bar survey also reported judges shouting and swearing in court, being openly aggressive, rude, sarcastic and arrogant. Gender discrimination was also raised as an issue of concern.

The state’s judicial officers will now be asked to take part in an education program aimed at stamping out bullying.

Based on a survey of the state’s 2000 barristers, 59 per cent said they had experienced judicial bullying.

The report quoted anonymous barristers who raised specific concerns about being bullied from the bench.

“Judicial bullying is alive and well,” one said.

“Judicial bullying especially in long running cases is excruciating,” another said.

Barristers complained of being demeaned, abused, humiliated and belittled in court.

When asked how their quality of working life could be improved, one-in-six respondents referred to better judicial behaviour.

Almost six-in-ten respondents, or 59 per cent, said they had experienced judicial bullying in the course of their working lives.

Fifty-five per cent of male barristers and 66 per cent of female barristers said they had been bullied by a judge or magistrate.

“Judicial bullying comes in the form of personal attacks on counsel and their professional judgement or character,” one barrister said.

Another complained that: “Overall, the commonest form of judicial bullying is grossly discourteous and disrespectful behaviour from the bench, in public, in front of clients and other lawyers.”

“I have been regularly bullied and abused by judicial offices in both the County and Magistrates’ Court,” said another.

How to cope with a workplace bully

Victorian Bar president Dr Matt Collins said the findings were concerning.

“Discrimination, bullying and harassment are not acceptable in any workplace, and certainly not at the Victorian Bar,” he said.

“But we carried out this survey, in part, to better understand issues and develop strategies to address them.

“That is exactly what we are doing, through our support services, training and working groups,” he said.

Supreme Court chief justice Anne Ferguson, who is also the Chair of the Courts Council, said bullying by judicial officers would not be tolerated.

“All workplaces should be safe and respectful, and our courts are no different,” she said.

“Robust and vigorous legal debate is common in the courtroom, but judges across all jurisdictions must always be mindful to treat people with respect and dignity.

“Bullying, discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated in our courts.”
Supreme Court chief justice Anne Ferguson

Justice Ferguson said there were many education programs available to judges around appropriate judicial conduct.

She said she had been working with the Judicial College to develop a new stand-alone education program.

“As part of that, judicial officers have been invited to sessions later this year and early next year to learn more about bullying, judicial conduct and advanced court leadership.”

The Judicial College of Victoria said it had already planned education programs aimed at addressing leadership and conduct.

“However, this information sheds new light on the issue and underlines the importance of this work,” College spokesman Chris Parkes said.

“We will be equipping court leaders with the tools and knowledge to define appropriate conduct, deal with bullying and create robust court environments that discourage bullying in the first place.

“The link between workplace stress and bullying is well documented.”

The preliminary results into one study measuring judicial occupational stress would be released later this year, Mr Parkes said.

“This research has already underpinned a number of judicial wellbeing programs at the College,” he said.

“Into the future, the College’s Leadership program will continue to evolve and adapt, always with a view to creating safe, harmonious working environments across the court system.”

The survey, the first of its kind, found 70 per cent of barristers were satisfied with the overall quality of their working lives.

But one third of women, 36 per cent, and one-in-six men, 16 per cent, reported experiencing some form of discrimination.

Women were eight times more likely to be sexually harassed.

The Victorian Bar is working with the judiciary to address concerns about judicial conduct disclosed in the report.


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