Lawyers’ email accounts hacked in homophobia investigation, Victoria Bar Council says

The email accounts of Victoria’s lawyers were accessed as part of an investigation into the production of a homophobic ad, says the Victorian Bar Council.

The council launched the investigation after the notice was posted in the elevators of the prominent Owen Dixon Chambers East law chambers on August 10, 2022.

The ad, which claimed to be from the bar and was written on letterhead, referenced a committee seeking new members, but said “straight white men” did not need to apply.

In a statement obtained by Guardian Australia that was sent to Victorian lawyers on Tuesday by the Victoria bar’s chairman, Sam Hay KC, the council says members’ emails were accessed in mid-August last year. .

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The ad referred to a bogus “LGBTQMS” review board, with the letters “MS” standing for “mud whackers.” The council used software to search for the term “LGBTQMS” in an attempt to discover the lawyer who posted it.

“That software returned a series of results that matched the search term,” the council said.

“Most were immediately dismissed as irrelevant to the investigation with approximately 10 emails identified as being of interest.

“TO [bar council] The employee reviewed the subject lines of those emails and an email was opened and read.”

While that search uncovered the person allegedly responsible for the notice, the council said it wanted to reassure members that such access would not occur again unless authorized by law and that it was reviewing the council’s privacy and information management policies. .

“There is now a very clear and shared understanding between [the bar council] and the Victorian Bar Association that electronic environments used by members must be held in the strictest confidence and will only be interrogated under duress or authorization of law (as would be the case with any third party internet service provider)” Hay said. .

“All terms and conditions related to email use and privacy are being reviewed and updated to reflect this shared understanding.”

When contacted by Guardian Australia, Hay said he did not wish to comment further.

The ad called for nominations for members of the bogus “LGBTQMS” review committee.

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“Members of the Bar Association who identify with one (or more) of the minority groups represented by the anagram above have expressed concern that the briefs of several major litigants, both government and private, have not been disproportionately targeted. to them,” the notice read in part.

“It is resolved to form a subcommittee to investigate the basis of this concern, how many lawyers are affected and what measures can be taken to alleviate the situation.

“Membership is open to all members over ten years of convocation, whether junior or silk, who fall into at least one of the categories, therefore white heterosexual males will not be eligible to serve.”

The former president of the bar council, Róisín Annesley KC, condemned the ad in a statement sent on August 11, saying the council was investigating.

On August 17, Annesley said she had lodged a complaint with the Legal Services Commissioner about a member of the Bar Association regarding the offending ad.

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