This advice describes the process for Legal Services Branch to consider and action complaints by employees of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing about inappropriate behaviour of legal practitioners (including members of the judiciary) in child protection proceedings.

Document ID number 3207, version 4, 23 May 2022.

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

A DFFH employee who experiences or witnesses inappropriate behaviour by legal representatives in child protection proceedings should report the inappropriate behaviour to the Legal Services Branch. The report can be made to the following staff:

  • Either or both of the Co-General Counsels, Legal Services Branch
  • Director, Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO)
  • Special Counsel, CPLO

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, the Legal Services Branch will consider it and engage with the complainant to obtain any further information required and discuss the action that should be taken in the circumstances. This will typically involve bringing the concerns to the legal practitioner who is the subject of the report as well as to the legal practitioner's employer or managing partner in writing  and seeking an explanation for the inappropriate behaviour, and/or an apology and/or an assurance that such inappropriate behaviour will not recur. If the complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, the Legal Services Branch will consider, in consultation with the complainant, whether to take further action. This may include making a formal complaint to the appropriate professional body, and/or bringing the matter to the attention of Victoria Legal Aid, if the practitioner has been engaged by them.

The Legal Services Branch will deal with the report in a timely way and will consult with the complainant in progressing the complaint, including advising them of any responses received and the outcome.

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

Accessing support

Experiencing or witnessing inappropriate behaviour by legal representatives in child protection proceedings may cause significant distress. Early de-briefing with relevant colleagues about your experiences and about the case is important. The CPLO and the Court Practice Advice and Support (CPAS) team within the Office of Professional Practice can provide assistance with this and about reporting the inappropriate behaviour more formally as described above. You can contact CPLO for this or request assistance and support from CPAS through the CPAS SharePoint site.

Importantly, you can also access support and professional de-briefing through the Child Protection Wellbeing Program. The SharePoint site can be accessed here: Wellbeing - Child Protection (sharepoint.com)

Practice Dictionary Definition

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