The Law Society is already undergoing an independent review. Picture 123RF
What’s going on with the Bar?
Last month it was revealed that the regulator had commissioned a review of the organization’s culture. It turns out that concerns were raised in June about
behavior of President Jacques Lethbridge.
It was in June that General Manager Joanna Simon resigned from her post. Lethbridge, who was elected president in April, strongly denied the unspecified allegations.
In a statement given to the Herald, Lethbridge said the Law Society had issued a statement confirming that no complaints of bullying or harassment had been received, noting that some behavioral issues had been raised.
“I participated in and fully supported the decision of the full Board to launch a general review of the working culture of the NZLS undertaken by Mike Heron QC which will address all concerns including those I raised directly. I look forward to fully participating in this.”
She said her platform had been one of fairness and transparency.
“I firmly believe that the reputation of our profession and our organization can only be enhanced and benefit from a clear, open and fair approach.”
Law Society board vice-chairman David Campbell said until the review was completed he could not comment further.
These concerns are taken seriously by the board, and the Law Society’s priority is the welfare of its staff, Campbell said.
“It is important that New Zealanders have confidence in the Law Society as a regulator of the profession as well as an advocate for the legal profession.”
While the Law Society is legally prohibited from commenting on complaints under the Solicitors and Conveyors Act, the same cannot be said of its internal issues regarding Jacque Lethbridge and others.
Privacy – the devil in sheep’s clothing
On an existential level, it irritates me that human resources or communications departments bark about confidentiality and natural justice while openly saying they are “transparent.” It’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one.
My view of “people and culture specialists” or “communications” is not personal – I had the best relationship with HR when I did communications for Simpson Grierson many years ago. moons, for example.
I challenge the perspective and the impact of this perspective.
If I had a dollar for every official statement about a complaint that couldn’t be answered due to the privacy of those involved, I could afford to buy smoked salmon and Costello blue cheese at full price .
Yes, it is important to follow due process and promote natural justice. But often, in situations involving complaints, it is the victims who are swallowed up and spat out.
Media statements about privacy “protection” add insult to injury, as companies inadvertently profit by not acknowledging the system that allowed something allegedly questionable – whatever it was – to occur. The reputation remains intact.
There is also a conflict of interest here as human resources are traditionally designed to protect the interests of a business. Call it what you will, but more often than not, HR often fails to effectively resource the humans they are committed to protecting.
Confidentiality, both internally and externally, is a guideline and not a right in the legislative or ethical sense.
Compare prohibition to confidentiality to say client’s privilege or patient’s privilege, for example.
From a practical point of view, in situations where he/she said, I have been exposed to far too many incidents where, in the case of bullying or harassment, an accused often receives a copy of a complaint, which arguably puts the complainant and those mentioned in a very vulnerable position.
I could even say that it endangers the health and safety of the complainants and the people mentioned in the complaint. Should complaints include redactions? Absolutely.
A cynical view might argue that secrecy breeds corruption, or at the very least incompetence. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, the saying goes.
I am of the view that confidentiality is an extensive, dishonest and ambiguous smokescreen that is used as a vehicle to steer companies away from accountability and transparency.
Meanwhile, last year the Law Society introduced new rules regarding mandatory reporting by lawyers in cases of bullying and harassment.
In addition, the Law Society is currently undergoing an independent review.
The review aims to examine the reform of the complaints system – which has been widely criticized for its delays and lack of transparency – and whether the Society can sufficiently act as a regulator and representative at the same time.
Everything is fine and I am hopeful for the result.
But few seem to address the elephant in the room.
If it is decided that the regulator should be independent of the professional members, should the Ministry of Justice intervene?
My thoughts and prayers are with the new Minister of Justice, Kiri Allan, if that is the case.