Former High Court Judge Michael Kirby Issues Challenge to Bullies

A former justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, has publicly given bullies within the legal profession and wider community a reality check, reminding them that in the current climate, such poor behaviour will result in one warning before they are shown the ‘red card’.

Rhian Mordaunt, trainee Legal Editor at Thomson Reuters, interviewed the Hon Michael Kirby to mark Wear It Purple Day 2019.

Wear It Purple was launched in 2010 as a global response to several LGBTIQ young people taking their lives following bullying and harassment.

“People should not have to put up with bullies, whether it’s bullying in the workplace or bullying in a social environment,” Kirby said.

The Hon Michael Kirby talks to Rhian Mordaunt about celebrating diversity in 2019 and the legal profession’s responsibility to “Stand Up. Stand Out”.

“There’s been research recently that’s shown bullying and harassment are very high in the legal profession and that is intolerable,” he added, referring to a report released by the International Bar Association (IBA) exposing bullying and harassment in legal profession.

According to the IBA survey of almost 7,000 respondents across 135 countries, half of women lawyers and one-third of male lawyers have been bullied in the workplace. Kirby shared with Mordaunt that he had come across several bullies during his legal career, including high up the ranks.

“I’ve known a few judge bullies in my time. In the old days there wasn’t much you could do about it, but now people have recourse to complaints mechanisms and they should use it,” Kirby said.

The former High Court judge also revealed that, in a sense, he’d been bullied by society in the past. For decades he reluctantly “played along with the bullies” and didn’t disclose his sexual orientation.

But that changed during the AIDS crisis.

“Once the AIDS epidemic came along, it all seemed so trivial and pathetic in comparison to the suffering that was going on,” he said. “So that is really what got me to take a stand [and come out] with my partner Johan.”

“By standing up and being counted we will change the world,” Kirby said. “What has happened in my lifetime is a revolution. And the revolution continues.”

That revolution did indeed continue when Kirby married his long-time partner Johan van Vloten in February 2019, some 50years after their first meeting.

Stand Up. Stand Out.

This year’s Wear It Purple Day theme – “Stand Up, Stand Out” – pays tribute to role models like Mr Kirby, while acknowledging that even in 2019, not every LGBTIQ person feels safe to come out.

Young LGBTIQ activist Mordaunt acknowledged this reality at the Thomson Reuters launch of Wear It Purple Day in Sydney.

“Despite numerous successes the LGBTIQ community has witnessed over the years, it’s important to remember the struggles this community still faces,” he said.

“LGBTIQ young people are five times more likely to attempt suicide and twice as likely to self-harm compared to their peers. This demonstrates the importance of organisations, such as our own, to show our support for these young people who will later become the leaders who will pave the way towards a more inclusive and brighter future.

RELATED: Change Makers Podcast Episode 3: LGBTIQ Advocacy in the Legal Profession

“Wear it Purple’s core values of advocacy, celebrating diversity, raising awareness and championing LGBTIQ role models are values that I want you all to remember not just today, but throughout your day-to-day lives.

“Harvey Milk once stated that all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity deserve a safe and supportive environment in which they can achieve their full potential. And I believe that you all being here today demonstrates our organisation’s commitment to making this world a reality. So, Stand Up, Stand Out. And always – Stand Proud,” added Mordaunt.

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG was a justice of the High Court of Australia from 1996-2009 and currently is Co-Chair of the IBA Human Rights Institute. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Thomson Reuters’ The Laws of Australia.

Rhian Mordaunt is a Pinnacle Foundation scholar, law student, and member of the Wear It Purple Youth Action Council. He is a trainee Legal Editor at Thomson Reuters.

If you or anyone you know needs help, support can be found at:

  • Lifeline on Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • ReachOut at au.reachout.com

The Legal Insight team is made up of our very own team of Thomson Reuters’ local and international journalists and editors. Our contributors offer a wealth of knowledge and thought leadership on the latest legal technologies and innovations, industry best practice and trends, and legislative and case law developments.

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