Bar concerned over complaints of sexual harassment in legal workplace

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir says official reports of complaints to the Bar Council have been ‘few and far between’.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar is deeply concerned over complaints of sexual harassment in the legal workplace.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir said the legal profession currently has more than 54% women.

“It has always spoken out against any form of violence and discrimination against women and therefore takes this matter very seriously.

“The Malaysian Bar also recognises that the very nature of sexual harassment would mean that there may be even more cases than are made known or published,” he said without mentioning any specific cases or complaints.

Bashir said there are existing provisions in the Employment Act 1955 relating to sexual harassment in the workplace and the Penal Code. However, there is still a lot more that can be done in tackling sexual harassment, he said.

First, the Malaysian Bar called for the amendment of section 509 of the Penal Code to include sexual harassment.

“The Malaysian Bar also reiterates its call for the enactment of legislation to specifically govern sexual harassment to eliminate sexual offences in a holistic manner to effectively combat the multifarious and nuanced issue of sexual harassment.”

Bashir said, internally, the Bar has in place a Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, adopted at its 59th annual general meeting.

This created a mechanism for the resolution of complaints for members of the Bar and pupils within the legal profession, and in dealings with the judiciary and the courts.

“However, reports of complaints to the Bar Council have been few and far between.

“The Malaysian Bar has also included sexual harassment as a defined ‘misconduct’ in our proposed Legal Profession Bill, which we are hoping to get tabled and passed in Parliament this year.”

He said such a move would mean that lawyers would also face disciplinary action for allegations of misconduct or sexual harassment. They could face punishments, including fines or be struck off the roll.

Bashir said pending the passing of the bill, the Bar Council is committed to taking steps to put in place measures to deal with this matter, including:

(a) formulating a model Sexual Harassment Policy for law firms;

(b) making ruling(s) pursuant to section 94(3)(o) of the Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976 to require employers to execute a workplace pledge (as done in other international jurisdictions such as Australia);

(c) making available walk-in centres for victims to lodge complaints;

(d) taking steps to protect victims from dismissal (which would require an amendment of the Employment Act 1955); and,

(e) holding seminars and training to raise awareness among Bar members and pupils.

The Bar Council also recently constituted the Women’s Rights Committee to spearhead reforms in this area relating to women in law firms.

“The Malaysian Bar calls upon anyone who has fallen victim to such behaviour at the workplace not to be afraid but to seek help from other senior colleagues in the firm or in the profession, or to inform the Bar Council.”

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