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May 7, 2018 | by  | in News Splash | [ssba]

Not Above the Law: Update #1

In February 2018, the media reported on allegations of sexual assault/harassment of five female summer clerks at the Russell McVeagh law firm in 2015/16. In March, Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA), Victoria University of Wellington Law Students’ Society (VUWLSS), and Victoria
University of Wellington Feminist Law Society (VUWFLS) organised the “March on Midland”. The march saw hundreds of law students and allies rallying outside the Russell McVeagh offices in Midland Park, demanding safer workspaces with zero tolerance toward sexual assault and harassment. Russell McVeagh’s external review, led by Dame Margaret Bazley, is now underway and is investigating the firm’s response to the allegations.
As a result of the March on Midland, VUWSA, VUWLSS, and VUWFLS (“the student reps”) were invited to speak with the President of the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS). At the meeting, NZLS’s handling of the 2015/16 reported incidents at Russell McVeagh was discussed. NZLS said in that regard, there were things they could have done better.

NZLS also invited the student reps to participate in a series of stakeholder meetings that they are hosting in order to better understand the culture of sexual assault and harassment in the legal profession, and to develop a best practice response. The first stakeholder meeting took place on 11 April, and was attended by representatives from law firms and other key people in the legal community, as well as by student reps.

On 19 April, the student reps hosted the re-launch of the campaign — now titled “Not Above the Law”. This campaign is split into four strands: (1) law firms, (2) Law Society, (3) Government, and (4) mobilising the law school community. The student reps met with Wellington Central MP and Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, on 27 April to discuss the Government’s procurement policy. This meeting involved discussing how procurement might be changed to ensure that only firms with ethical practices, particularly regarding sexual assault and harassment, advise the Government.

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