Human rights an afterthought when making new laws: experts
Media Release, Tuesday 18 July 2006
Australian parliaments are not doing enough to protect human rights when they draft new laws, according to a new University of Melbourne study.
Interim findings from the ongoing study, by Dr Simon Evans and Dr Carolyn Evans from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, suggest that although some mechanisms are in place to scrutinise human rights in the legislative process, they are often disorganised, late and poorly focused.
The results will be presented at a major international conference on human rights and the law this week, which occurs as Victoria appears poised to enact the first bill of rights for an Australian state.
Experts from around the world will debate the benefits or pitfalls of bills of rights as part of the University researchers’ three year ARC funded research project on the effectiveness of Australian Parliaments in protecting human rights.
“In Victoria, and other states around Australia, there is no comprehensive and systematic attention paid to human rights,” Dr Simon Evans said.
“We think a form of Bill of Rights may bring human rights into view much earlier in the legislative process, and provide a more systematic approach to rights in parliaments.
“One of the most important issues is to get in early with human rights considerations, before a government is wedded to a piece of legislation.”
The researchers said they were surprised at how differently human rights were viewed by individuals in parliaments.
“Politicians often won’t be talking about the same standard of rights, and will effectively be talking past each other,” Dr Carolyn Evans said.
“A Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities has the potential to create a standard and strengthen the culture of human rights in government without unduly shifting the balance of power between courts and parliament.”
Academic experts, politicians and government officials from the US, UK, Canada, India, NZ and Australia will attend the major international conference ‘Legislatures and the Protection of Human Rights’ at the University’s Faculty of Law from 20-22 July.
Other speakers include Senator Andrew Murray; Cambridge University UK human rights expert Professor David Feldman; Director General of Human Rights in Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Hafid Abbas; and Director of the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief in the American Civil Liberties Union, Professor Jeremy Gunn.
Topics to be covered during the conference include:
• Developing a human rights culture in the public service;
• United States congress and rights;
• Who best protects rights: legislatures or the courts?;
• The roles of parliaments in protecting human rights: a view from the UK;
• Developing a human rights culture in the public service; and
• The effectiveness of Australian parliaments in the protection of rights: empirical evidence
Further details and the full conference programme can be found at cccs.law.unimelb.edu.au/
For further information on the conference or for interviews, contact Emma Brimfield on 8344 1011 or Matt Johnston on 0437 367 490.
Select papers are available on request.
For more information:
Dr Carolyn Evans
Tel: 8344 1102
Dr Simon Evans
Tel: 8344 4751
Tel: 8344 1011
Tel: 0437 367 490
Professor David Feldman will deliver a public lecture on lessons Victoria can learn from the United Kingdom Bill of Rights. Professor Feldman is the Rouse Ball Professor of English Law at Cambridge University, a judge of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and was the first legal adviser to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. He is one of the most qualified people in the world to speak about how bills of rights like the Victorian Charter work in practice.
A debate on whether we need a bill of rights featuring two of Australia’s highest profile commentators on constitutional issues: Professor George Williams (chair of the committee that advised the Victorian government to draft a bill of rights) and Professor James Allan (one of the leading critics of bills of rights).
Professor Jeremy Gunn, the Director of the Religious Freedom programme at the American Council of Civil Liberties in Washington DC, will discuss the way in which the US Congress has used its power to push for greater religious freedom in other countries. In the same panel, Professor David Kinley from Sydney University will discuss the way in which international institutions such as the IMF can limit developing countries’ capacity to institute human rights reforms.
Professor Janet Hiebert, from Queen’s University, Canada, has looked at the way bills of rights in Canada, New Zealand and the UK affect the processes of government. She is particularly concerned about the risk of politicians unduly deferring to how courts interpret bills of rights and not asserting their own legitimate interpretations of human rights.
The conference will also feature speeches from Senator Andrew Murray, Mr Allan Shearan (NSW Parliament), Victor Perton (Victorian Parliament) and Professor John McMillan (the Commonwealth Ombudsman).