The government statement was made in response to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (‘SARC’) Report, Review of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 tabled in September 2011. Despite 95 per cent of submissions calling for the Charter to be retained or strengthened, the Report recommended stripping courts and tribunals of the power to hold government to account or to provide people with remedies when their human rights are violated. If accepted, the recommendations would have rendered the Charter completely ineffective.
The government statement in response recognises that there is an ‘ongoing place for courts in protecting rights’ under the Charter. The government has committed to seeking further ‘evidence-based’ advice on how courts and tribunals can best fulfil this role, including by consulting with ‘key stakeholders’ such as the Law Institute of Victoria, Victoria Legal Aid, Victoria Police, the Public Interest Law Clearing House and the Human Rights Law Centre. They have also pledged to consider the inclusion of additional rights in the Charter in order to bring it into line with international human rights standards.
According to a joint press release from the Premier and the Attorney-General on 14 March 2012:
At the time SARC was finalising its report, and subsequently, there have been major court decisions handed down in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal about the operation of the Charter Act in the courts’ (Attorney General) Robert Clark said.
There has been limited opportunity to observe the practical effect of those decisions on the various roles of the courts and VCAT in relation to the Charter.
The Government will therefore seek specific legal advice in relation to these issues, as well as in relation to the risks and benefits of SARC’s proposals for the possible inclusion in the Charter of additional rights from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Premier Mr Ted Ballieu concluded:
SARC’s report and today’s Government response lay the basis for ensuring that Victorians’ rights are recognised and respected whenever new laws are being proposed in the Parliament and are upheld in all dealings Victorians may have with the State Government or its agencies.
PHIL LYNCH, BEN SCHOKMAN and RACHEL BALL of the Human Rights Law Centre