Minister of Justice Andrew Little is prepared to intervene formally in the law profession’s current crisis over sexual harassment issues that have to date encircles law firm Russell McVeagh and two law schools.
The #MeToo movement and a variety of womens legal groups and others have been heavily critical of the Law Society’s response to the issues involving summer interns and women in the profession generally.
The NZ Herald reported that Andrew Little is less than impressed with the responses to date, saying he would set up “a ministerial inquiry of some sort”.
“I’ve said, as the minister, I naturally have a stake in the law profession maintaining its standards. My concern is if there are enough complaints about the law society, there’s a question about whether they can credibly conduct an investigation.
“I would reserve my right to intervene … I needed to put them on notice,” he told the Herald.
One of the key issues of contention is when any incident of sexual harassment, sexual assault or any other matter is raised by a lawyer within a firm, or event outside a firm, should be reported as misconduct under the Law Society’s rules.
Although the Law Society has set up a help line and is to implement a working group to investigate under-reporting of such complaints, it is seen as a weak-kneed approach by many, who say that such behaviour is more an abuse of power and cultural issue within some firms that other lawyers simply overlook instead of filing a complaint.
To date there has been no formal complaint in respect of the Russell McVeagh issues.
“I’m absolutely stunned … if there’s one thing lawyers ought to understand from their studies, it’s about power … and yet some lawyers have been conducting themselves in a way that’s an abuse of their power towards their staff.”