QLS Human rights working group
The Queensland Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee (the Committee) has invited the Society to appear at its public hearing on Thursday 9 June 2016, to inform its inquiry into whether it is appropriate or desirable to legislate for a human rights act in Queensland, other than through a constitutionally entrenched model.
A Human Rights Act for Queensland
In 2016, Queenslanders have the historic opportunity to decide whether Queensland should introduce a Human Rights Act. At the request of Queensland’s Attorney-General, the parliamentary Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee is conducting a Human Rights Inquiry, due to report to parliament by 30 June 2016.
How can you (our members) help?
Queensland Law Society considers its role in helping to shape Queensland’s human rights policy integral – a role which it can only carry out on behalf of you, its members, with the help of your input and expertise.
The Society is establishing a Human Rights Working Group to consult with its members and provide advice to the QLS Council about a position to be adopted on the fundamental issues raised by the inquiry.
The Society welcomes comments from all members, who can email their thoughts to the working group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Society will publish summaries of as much of this feedback as possible on this page. Comments may be edited or moderated due to size constraints.
Please click on the links below for more information.
What is a Human Rights Act?
A Human Rights Act (sometimes called a ‘Charter’ or ‘Bill of Rights’) sanctions fundamental human rights and compels consideration of those rights in the introduction of new legislation and in policies. It does not, however, purport to intrude on parliamentary supremacy in our democratic society. It does not stop governments pursuing policy objectives or introducing laws that affect rights. All rights have limits and in most situations, there are, in fact, competing rights that must be balanced depending on the needs of the time. A Human Rights Act can also be used by the courts to aid judicial interpretation in litigious disputes.
A central issue is whether Queensland requires blanket legislative protection of basic human rights.
Proponents of a Human Rights Act for Queensland consider that some laws which incidentally offer protection for some human rights (with which our parliamentary committee system is charged with considering and protecting) have had mixed success.
Why is a Human Rights Act important?
Regardless of any resolution which the Society and its Council may elect to adopt concerning this issue, it remains a fact that Australia is the only democracy in the world which has not adopted a Bill of Rights.[i]
Deliberations concerning the question of whether to legislate for human rights, regardless of the outcome, will impact all Queenslanders, especially members of the legal profession who are charged with a duty to uphold the rule of law and protect fundamental human rights.
Other Australian jurisdictions having adopted human rights legislation have reported on its benefits. Human rights are touted as benefiting the community in general, and not simply as lawyers’ tools. Since Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 came into force in 2007, Victoria’s Human Rights Law Centre has published 100 cases citing the charter as having assisted in resolving matters positively across a broad spectrum of areas of law, including criminal, family, employment, property and guardianship.
In the context of domestic violence, a Human Rights Act has the potential to help to protect the rights of women and children to freedom from degrading treatment, to liberty and security of person, to the highest attainable standard of health, to equality in marriage and to life. A Human Rights Acts can give women who have experienced violence new tools when seeking protection of their rights, including access to adequate and appropriate services.
There are, of course, arguments against codifying human rights in state-based legislation. As and when the Society’s working group considers these, it will keep you abreast of them in order to give you, our members, a balanced view of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’.
1 The Hon Justice Margaret McMurdo AC - A Human Rights Act for Queensland? 2015.