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Charter of Human Rights a beacon of hope

Briefs

Cite as: September 2015 89 (9) LIJ, p.10

Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has effected "radical change" in government culture, according to the president of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell.

“It means that we have a human rights reference point in every legislative proposal,” Justice Maxwell said, adding he was proud to live in a state with such a parameter.

“I’d much rather have the rights written down, speaking as a citizen rather than a judge, as it’s just that much harder for government to trample on them. So it seems to me that it [the Charter] is of very great importance to us. Why strengthen it? Well, because we want it to be stronger, that’s why.

“I speak as a citizen, not as a judge, but my personal view has always been that strong legislative protection makes for a better society, and if it means our rights are better protected and they are more readily enforceable then of course that means we have an even better human rights culture.”

Justice Maxwell said he believed the Charter’s remedies should not be confined to the Supreme Court and that it should be able to be litigated at the level most people litigate – VCAT.

Justice Maxwell was part of Strengthening The Charter: Bringing Human Rights Home, a panel discussion at the LIV on 30 July. Professor Simon Rice, director of law reform and social justice at ANU, also spoke. He said the Charter was “a little beacon of progressive hope in an otherwise pretty miserable environment, both in NSW and Australia”.

A government review of the Charter is underway and expected to report by October.

The LIV has made a submission to the review, making 36 recommendations including that the Charter be expanded and strengthened to include damages for breaches.

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