Review of Sexual Harassment in Victorian Courts

About the review

Final Report

Context and scope

Initiated jointly by Victoria’s Attorney General, the Hon. Jill Hennessy and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and Chair of the Courts Council, the Hon Anne Ferguson, the independent Review will be led by Dr Helen Szoke AO. Former Commissioner of the Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission and Chief Executive Officer for Oxfam Australia, Dr Szoke is a current member of the Judicial Commission of Victoria.

Dr Szoke will be supported to conduct the Review by a multi-disciplinary team. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will also support the Review through a research partnership providing a confidential process for individuals to share their experiences with the Review, and to access confidential help and support.

By taking a systematic and comprehensive approach to assessing the current context in which this behaviour is occurring, the Review will identify opportunities to prevent harassment, and improve reporting and support for those who experience it.

The Review will be undertaken in close consultation with the Judicial Commission of Victoria, to ensure the state’s judiciary maintains the highest standards of integrity.

Video transcript of Dr Helen Szoke AO talking about the Review.

Terms of reference

Preventing sexual harassment

  • Effective strategies and programs to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment that target root causes, the responsibility of individuals for their actions and the responsibility of third parties to call out inappropriate behaviour
  • Develop a clear outline of the positive duty of Court Services Victoria to prevent sexual harassment

Improving reporting and support for those who experience sexual harassment

  • Current impediments to reporting and levels of support available for those reporting sexual harassment
  • Best practice mechanisms and processes which give those who experience sexual harassment the confidence to report it and support them through the processes that follow
  • Legislative reforms which may be necessary to support this best practice model
  • Other actions and reforms which facilitate reporting and support including actions relating to organisational culture

Raising awareness

  • The best means of raising awareness of the issue of sexual harassment in a way that contributes to prevention and builds confidence in identifying and calling out inappropriate behaviour

Ensuring accountability

  • Examine current accountability mechanisms for all potential instances of sexual harassment in the context of Courts and VCAT including by or amongst the judiciary, staff, external court and tribunal participants
  • Identify gaps and limitations impacting on current accountability mechanisms and the steps needed to address them, whether legislative or otherwise.

The recommendations of the Review should include clear accountabilities for implementation and, a mechanism for publicly reporting against those accountabilities.

The Review will consider sexual harassment in the context of Victoria’s courts, including within:

  • Supreme Court of Victoria
  • County Court of Victoria
  • Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
  • Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
  • Coroners Court of Victoria
  • Children’s Court of Victoria
  • Court Services Victoria (CSV)

It includes sexual harassment involving:

  • Judges, VCAT members and magistrates
  • Court Services Victoria employees (including volunteers and contractors)
  • All court and VCAT users where this occurs in a court or VCAT building (such as lawyers and advocates, interpreters and mediators, witnesses or observers).

Interactions at court and VCAT events and social functions are included, and also harassment via electronic means such as email or text message.

Review timeframes

23 September 2020Submissions from organisations open
Opportunities for people who have experienced sexual harassment to confidentially share their individual experiences
30 October 2020Submissions from organisations close.

Opportunities to share personal experiences with the Review conclude (the Harassment Hotline will remain open)
Proposed March 2021Report published

About the Review Advisory Committee

The Review Advisory Committee has been established to provide advice and to support the Review in developing recommendations to facilitate positive change in the Victorian Courts and VCAT – to prevent sexual harassment and improve reporting and support for those who experience it.

The Review Advisory Committee will be convened for up to four meetings. It comprises Dr Helen Szoke AO as Chair, and the following members:  Kate Jenkins, Kristen Hilton, Professor Paula McDonald, the Hon Marcia Neave AO, Samantha Burchell, Rabea Khan and Kieran Pender.