Complaints about inappropriate behaviour of legal practitioners

This advice describes the process for Legal Services Branch to take action in relation to complaints by employees of the Department of Health and Human Services about inappropriate behaviour of legal practitioners (including members of the Court) in child protection proceedings.

Inappropriate behaviour

Inappropriate behaviour for the purposes of this process is any of the following:

  • offensive or provocative language or conduct
  • abusive, harassing, intimidating or threatening language or conduct
  • insulting, discourteous or disrespectful language or conduct
  • any other language or behaviour that could amount to a breach of applicable standards of professional conduct, including, the solicitors' Professional Conduct and Practice Rules, the barrister's Practice Rules of the Bar and the Victorian public servants' Code of Conduct for Public Sector Employees.

Process for reporting the inappropriate behaviour

If the language or the conduct in question is of such a serious nature that it might amount to a criminal offence, a report should be made without delay to Victoria Police to investigate. The process set out below will generally be deferred pending completion of any investigation by Victoria Police.

In any other case, a person who experiences or witnesses inappropriate behaviour by legal representatives in child protection proceedings should report the inappropriate behaviour to the Legal Services Branch, either to the Director Legal Services (located at 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne) or to the Assistant Director Litigation (located at the Child Protection Litigation Office, Level 3, 456 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne).

The report should be made in writing, including by e-mail.

It should set out:

  • the name and position of the person who is making the report (the complainant)
  • the date, time and place where the inappropriate behaviour occurred
  • a description, in as much detail as possible, of the inappropriate behaviour
  • the identity of anyone else who witnessed the inappropriate behaviour
  • the complainant's consent to the report being dealt with in accordance with this process.

Upon receipt of the report, Legal Services will send the report as a formal complaint to the legal practitioner who is the subject of the report as well as to the legal practitioner's employer or managing partner (if any), seeking an explanation for the inappropriate behaviour, an apology and an assurance that such inappropriate behaviour will not recur.

If Legal Services forms the view that the inappropriate behaviour could amount to a breach of an applicable standard of professional conduct, it may also refer the formal complaint to the Legal Services Board, the Bar Council's Ethics Committee or the employee's manager, as the case may be, for consideration of disciplinary action.

Legal Services will send a copy of each formal complaint about a legal practitioner who is either an employee of, or funded by, Victoria Legal Aid to the Director Family, Youth and Children's Law, Victoria Legal Aid.

Legal Services will inform the complainant of the progress and outcome of the formal complaint.

De-identified data about the number and type of reports received and the outcome of all formal complaints will be provided by Legal Services to the Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services, the Director, Family, Youth and Children's Law, Victoria Legal Aid, and the President of the Children's Court of Victoria at regular intervals.

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