Almost 90 per cent of lawyers have either experienced or witnessed harassment, including sexual, or bullying in the legal workplace, a survey reveals.

The Criminal Bar Association of NZ (CBA) conducted a voluntary survey with those practising at the criminal bar about harassment, including sexual, and bullying in the legal workplace.

Three hundred people responded, just under two-thirds were women.

Eighty-eight per cent said they had personally experienced or witnessed harassment or bullying behaviour in the last four years.


Broken down by type of harassment or bullying behaviour, 45 per cent reported it was based on gender and 28 per cent said they had seen or experienced unwelcome sexual behaviour.

Sixty-nine per cent had experienced or witnessed mocking, professionally-related bullying or harassment, 58 per cent shouting or raised voice, and 44 per cent personal comments or insults.

Threats - overt or covert - were reported by 27 per cent of respondents, and 17 per cent had seen or experienced harassment or bullying based on race.

Respondents were also asked who was doing harassing or bullying, with options including a judge, court staff member, opposing counsel, employer, colleague, police, client or member of the public.

Two-thirds pointed the finger at judges, 43 per cent at colleagues and just over 30 per cent at opposing counsels or clients.

Twenty-three per cent apiece blamed employers or police.

Effects on the alleged victims included stress (77 per cent), loss of confidence (73 per cent) and reduce desire to continue in the profession (61 per cent).

Most - 83 per cent - had never made a formal complaint about what they had seen or experienced.


However, 92 per cent said they had talked informally to colleagues about it.

Of those who did complain, 6 per cent said the complaint process resolved the issue, 41 per cent said it didn't. The remainder either didn't know or said it helped in some ways.

Asked about the last occasion they witnessed or experienced bullying, 71 per cent said age or experience disparity was a factor.

Results 'concerning more than surprising' - president

Criminal Bar Association president Len Andersen said the survey started before last month's Russell McVeagh allegations.

At least two lawyers from the top law firm were said to have left their jobs after allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards summer clerks.

The scandal sparked a flurry of more allegations against other law firms and university-sanctioned law camps.

The survey was prompted by concern at the number of women leaving law within 10 years of graduating.

The results showed a "high level of bad experiences", Andersen said.

However, as it asked if people had experienced or seen sexual harassment, the high level was not surprising.

"It is concerning more than surprising."

The survey also highlighted difficulties with taking action.

"Those who attempted to do something about it weren't really successful in doing so. A lot were reluctant to do anything, as it didn't seem to be a particularly major incident."

There had always been a culture in the criminal courts that you had to be prepared to stand up to judges, Andersen said, adding judges today were nothing like those 30 or 40 years ago.

"If we did an equivalent survey then the results would have been 100 per cent."

The survey was not scientific, but still showed room to improve.

"What is happening is not good enough. The CBA needs to consider both alone and in conjunction with the Law Society what steps should be put in place to try and improve this situation.

"It does not indicate a predominance of bad behavior in the profession, but it does indicate some issues need to be looked at."

Senior lawyers needed to take action over situations they saw.

A mechanism to enable complaints to be dealt with in a more "neutral" manner would also be considered.

"Complaints need be dealt with in a more neutral way. Now there are no really effective steps you can take. A judicial complaint is a major issue.

"We are trying to see if we can set up a mechanism to enable these issues to be dealt with in way that won't affect a young lawyer's career, and at same time makes a better work environment."

The increased focus on sexual harassment comes six months after the #metoo social movement exploded into the public consciousness, starting with accusations of workplace sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry, notably former American film producer Harvey Weinstein, and later across other industries with powerful figures.