The nation's chief justice has issued a rare rebuke to her own judiciary, warning judges to show respect and courtesy to witnesses, litigants and lawyers.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said she expected all judges to deal with litigants,
witnesses and counsel with respect and courtesy.

She was responding to results of a survey that revealed almost 90 per cent of lawyers had either experienced or witnessed harassment legal workplace.

Survey respondents singled out judges as some of the worst perpetrators of bullying and harassment.


In a rare public statement, Dame Sian said that bullying of counsel was unacceptable.

"That is made clear in the Guidelines for Judicial Conduct. If it is occurring I and the heads of the bench want to know about it and we want to stop it."

The Chief Justice said she would be discussing the survey findings with the Criminal
Bar Association to understand better the concerns that have been expressed and
what steps should be taken to address them.

She said it was difficult to tell from the survey whether the concerns expressed about judges were confined to in-court conduct perceived as "overbearing or belittling" or whether it extended to other conduct which should not be tolerated.

"If proper standards are not observed, I encourage those who are affected or who have observed such behaviour to raise their concerns with the head of bench or with me or to make a complaint to the Independent Judicial Conduct Commissioner."

The Criminal Bar Association 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.

The survey revealed sixty-nine per cent of the 300 who partook 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.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said she expects all judges to deal with litigants,
witnesses and counsel with respect and courtesy.