Former High Court Judge, Justice Michael Kirby believes judges often take their stresses out on lawyers.

Former High Court Judge, Justice Michael Kirby believes judges often take their stresses out on lawyers.

THE rudeness of judges trickles down to junior lawyers in a cycle of bullying and stress that is rife within the legal profession, says former High Court judge Michael Kirby.

Judges at every court level he had worked in, including the High Court often took their ''internal stresses'' out on lawyers that appeared before them, Justice Kirby said.

''There were judges who were shocking bullies,'' he said at a National Wellness for Law forum at Melbourne University on Thursday.

The judge said that bullied and stressed senior lawyers then went on to bully junior lawyers and that the legal profession was ''inherently stressful'', likening the role of a lawyer to being a ''public performer in a drama which is being written as you are performing''.

More people, particularly men, needed to be more open about problems with stress to promote change, he said. Judges also had an obligation to remember how stressed and nervous lawyers were in court.

This followed an Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration study that last month found that nearly half of all magistrates and 31 per cent of judges found their work ''often or always emotionally draining''.

While it was difficult for bullying victims - particularly junior lawyers - to take action, Justice Kirby said that bad behaviour should not be tolerated.

Lawyers should pull up judges for being rude in court, for example by saying, ''Your honour might care to reconsider the way that matter was put last'' or by complaining to the Jurists' Commission, he said. ''A judge is a servant of the law and is commissioned by the Queen and the community to do their duty, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

''They have to be held to that, in my opinion, because if they're not, they're going to go on [bullying others].''

Justice Kirby gave a rare glimpse into his personal experience as a gay High Court judge, saying that his sexuality had been an added stress. ''I had to not be myself. I couldn't be at peace. I was told I had to be ashamed of it. I wasn't really, but I knew that's what I had to be.''

Jane.Lee@fairfaxmedia.com.au