The evidence is in: the Charter of Human Rights is working for all Victorians

Guest Blogger: Ben Schokman, Human Rights Law Centre

A collection of case studies recently published by the Human Rights Law Centre illustrates the many benefits delivered by Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities during its first five years of operation.  The 101 case studies ‑ compiled from the various submissions made to the Victorian Government’s 2011 review of the Victorian Charter ‑ paint an overwhelming picture of an effective and efficient Charter that delivers tangible benefits to all Victorians.

The case studies show that the Victorian Charter has had substantial impacts in five key ways:

  1. It has required the Victorian Parliament to more fully consider and safeguard human rights in legislation.
  2. It has encouraged and enabled government departments and public authorities to undertake organisational and cultural change to embed the principles of freedom, respect, equality and dignity in their work.
  3. It has initiated human rights education and empowerment programs to create a better awareness of Charter rights and empower people to take action.
  4. It has provided a framework of language and ideas by which human rights can be more effectively articulated and realised without the need for litigation.
  5. It has had a notably beneficial impact in the courtroom where, although seldom employed, it has been successfully used to challenge arbitrary or unjust policies and decisions.

The compilation of case studies indicates the breadth of the Victorian Charter’s impact and its positive effect on Victorians from all walks of life.  Whilst the Charter has been used in a handful of court cases to highlight arbitrary or unjust policies and decisions, the case studies demonstrate that the Victorian Charter’s real strength is as a preventative tool and its ability to effect change outside of the courtroom.

By requiring parliament to consider the human impact of its decisions, the Charter helps to weed out problems in legislation and policies. The changes to superannuation legislation (case study 6) are a good example of where scrutiny against human rights standards helped to ensure the laws do not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or age.

The case studies also demonstrate improvements at the ‘coalface’ of government service delivery.  The Charter has encouraged and enabled Victorian Government departments and public authorities to embed the principles of freedom, respect, equality and dignity in their work.  It has also provided a framework by which human rights can be more effectively articulated and realised without resorting to legal action.  The 40 year old man living in an aged care home (case study 75) is a good example of how simple advocacy highlighting the rights protected by the Charter can help secure a far better outcome.

The collection of case studies builds on the Human Rights Law Centre’s submission to the review of the Victorian Charter, which outlines the key effects of the operation of the Victorian Charter in its first four years of operation.  In addition to beneficial impacts on legislative and policy formulation, on decision making and service delivery and on Victorian law, the HRLC’s submission also identifies the cost-effectiveness of the Charter, which is confirmed by the evidence from the collection of case studies.  The Charter plays a crucial preventative role, whether it is through government policies, local council projects or the affording of Charter-protected rights to vulnerable individuals and groups.

The HRLC hopes that that the case studies publication will be a useful resource for organisations and individuals to learn about the ways the Charter of Human Rights is working for all Victorians.

Ben Schokman is the Director of International Human Rights Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre  His position is generously supported by DLA Piper

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