The organisation representing women lawyers in Tasmania has called for an end to the “culture of secrecy” surrounding how sexual misconduct is dealt with within the state’s legal system.
Last week, it was revealed Tasmanian Supreme Court Justice Gregory Geason had been counselled by the Chief Justice after he was photographed at a Hobart nightclub in an embrace with a junior court employee.
The photograph was taken at the Grand Poobah nightclub in Hobart on Friday, January 29 — the evening of the opening of the legal year.
A statement from a spokesman for Chief Justice Alan Blow said the Chief Justice had investigated the matter following concerns expressed by members of the legal profession.
The junior staff member involved had not made a complaint, had been provided with information as to her options, and offered support.
In a statement on Friday, the Tasmanian Women Lawyers (TWL) said it welcomed “the Supreme Court’s investigation of and response to this allegation.”
“Conduct such as that alleged raises issues around power imbalances in personal relationships, and the potential of workplace sexual harassment, which may bring the judiciary and the legal profession into disrepute, and in turn undermine the public’s confidence in the justice system,” it said.
Calls for a judicial commission
Tasmanian Women Lawyers said the incident was concerning and required a firm response.
“We note that the current counselling provided to the staff concerned is not transparent and it is not clear to the public or broader legal profession what it entails,” it said.
“We call upon Parliament and the judiciary to implement a judicial commission, similar to models used in other Australian states, which would allow a clear process for all complaints regarding judicial behaviour that is open and allows for procedural fairness for all parties.
“This would provide opportunity to restore public faith in the justice system by showing the willingness of the Judiciary to be held to the same standards and process for accountability as public servants.
The Tasmanian Women Lawyers said without that process being available in Tasmania, one of the few options available for the resolution of such allegations was to call for the judge concerned to resign.
“We understand that this option has not been taken in this case,” it said.
‘Inherent power imbalance’
In its statement, the Tasmanian Women Lawyers noted numerous reports into sexual harassment and misconduct in Australian legal workplaces identified “wherever there is an inherent power imbalance between the parties to such conduct, there is the risk of exploitation”.
“In this case, the conduct involved one of the highest officers of the law in this jurisdiction and a junior staff member.
“TWL recognises that the historically male-dominated and tight-knit nature of the legal profession has led to a culture in which sexual harassment and misconduct has been allowed to continue.
“We understand that members of the profession have been reluctant to discuss this matter publicly out of fear of recrimination.
“TWL reiterates that in situations where there is an inherent power imbalance between the parties, the person in a position of authority should always bear the consequences of their actions.
“Women and other subjects of such misconduct should be supported and made to feel safe by the profession.”