Law Society complaint laid against Wellingtonian of the year

Wellington, 28 January 2019 – Prominent lawyer and 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year, Steph Dyhrberg, has had a complaint made against her to the law society, following an expletive-filled Twitter outburst where she called women ‘whores”.

Ms Dyhrberg’s comments demonstrate the intensity of the debate over the controversial sex self-identification clauses within the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill.

Speak Up For Women, the group who Ms Dyhrberg’s comments were in reference to, is campaigning for wider public consultation over the Bill which, if enacted, will enable people to obtain a birth certificate in the opposite sex, by completing a statutory declaration that they “identify” as a member of that sex. The group has concerns about the impact on women’s rights, including in relation to women’s prisons, refuges, and sports.

Ms Dyhrberg, who is also convenor of the Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association and Vice President of the Wellington Branch Council of the New Zealand Law Society, received last year’s accolade after speaking up about the culture of sexual harassment in the legal profession. Her attack on the group, which included Ms Dyhrberg telling the group to “get a decent hobby” and “take up knitting,” comes as a shock. In just over a month Ms Dyhrberg will be a keynote speaker at Minister for Women Hon Julie Anne Genter’s International Women’s Day Breakfast. She will speak alongside Prime Minister Ardern.

Ani O’Brien, Speak Up For Women spokesperson, says: “As a lawyer Ms Dyhrberg could engage with our primary concern about the lack of legal clarity on how sex self-ID will impact women’s protections enshrined in the Human Rights Act. Instead, she’s chosen to launch this shocking attack. It is unacceptable for anyone to abuse and intimidate women, but for a senior lawyer who has been given the honour of speaking at the International Women’s Day event at Parliament to refer to women participating in democracy as ‘whores’ is extremely disappointing, and unprofessional.”

Speak Up For Women has faced hostilities before. Labour MP Louisa Wall was recorded referring to “fucking TERFs” at a controversial Pride Hui late last year. The issue of sex self-identification is a contentious issue that has bubbled under the surface, but with outbursts like Dyhrberg’s the tension is only set to spill over.

“Women in positions of power and with larger incomes may find it difficult to empathise with the concerns and struggles of women who are more vulnerable to being impacted by these amendments,” says Ms O’Brien, “for example, they are unlikely to find themselves sharing intimate spaces in prison or a shelter with a natal male self-identifying as a woman.”

Ms Dhyrberg’s attack came only a day after a leading English newspaper, the Spectator, carried a story by journalist James Kirkup about the harsh treatment of feminists associated with A Woman’s Place UK, a group that shares the concerns of Speak Up For Women. Mr Kirkup described an online culture where women are “branded a transphobic witch and burned at the electronic stake….No-one, or more accurately, no woman, is safe from the online inquisition’s charges of transphobia.”

Ms O’Brien says: “the use of slurs and insults, like Ms Dyhrberg’s, has a chilling effect. We need a respectful debate if we are to have laws that balance the rights of everyone.”

Under s 12 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, lawyers have an obligation to conduct themselves in a manner becoming the legal profession. Complaints are considered by a standards committee and, if upheld, may result in a reprimand and/or a monetary award.

 

Notes:

James Kirkup “Women get treated far worse than men in Labour’s transgender debate” The Spectator 26 January 2019 https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/01/women-get-treated-far-worse-than-men-in-labours-transgender-debate/

Legal concerns with sex self-ID and the Human Rights Act explained here: https://speakupforwomen.nz/call-to-attorney-general/

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