Harmonising International Human Rights Law and Domestic Law and Policy: The Establishment and Role of the Human Rights Law Resource Centre

Article excerpt

[In a recent case, Royal Women's Hospital v Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, the President of the Victorian Court of Appeal commented that 'an Australian jurisprudence drawing on international human rights law is in its early stages' and that further progress will necessarily involve judges and practitioners working together to develop a common expertise. Despite significant capacity and expertise in the private legal profession, at the Victorian Bar, amongst community organisations, and in university law schools, Australian lawyers and judges have traditionally, though with notable exceptions, made relatively limited use of international human rights law in domestic forums. This article discusses a recent innovative initiative, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre. The fundamental aims of the Centre are to contribute to the harmonisation of Australian law and policy with international human rights norms and to support and enhance the capacity of the legal profession, judiciary, government and community sector to develop domestic law and policy consistently with international human rights standards. The Centre seeks to achieve these aims by providing pro bono expert advice, assistance, resources and support to community legal centres, human rights organisations, non-profit organisations and marginalised or disadvantaged groups to pursue human rights litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, education, monitoring and reporting.]

CONTENTS

I    Introduction
II   Human Rights and the Role of Lawyers
III  Establishment of the Human Rights Law Resource Centre
 IV  The Role and Activities of the HRLRC in Promoting Human Rights
       A  Human Rights Litigation
           1   Nature of Case or Matter
           2   Thematic Priorities and Target Groups
           3   Legal Merit and Prospects of Success
           4   Potential Impact and Outcome
           5   Purpose and Means of Applicant
           6   Availability of Legal Aid or Other More Appropriate
               Services
           7   Feasibility of Partnerships and Collaboration
           8   Availability and Use of HRLRC Resources
           9   Risks Associated with the Case or Matter
           10  Examples
       B  Human Rights Monitoring and Reporting
       C  Human Rights Policy Analysis, Lobbying and Advocacy
       D  Human Rights Education, Training, Information and Awareness
  V  Developments in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
 VI Conclusion

I INTRODUCTION

The Australian 'reluctance about rights' and the lacuna between international human rights law and Australian domestic law, policy and practice are well documented. (1) Despite ratifying all of the major international human rights treaties--namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (2) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (3) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; (4) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; (5) the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; (6) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (7)--Australia has not fully implemented or incorporated their provisions into domestic law. Australia remains the only Western democracy without a legislatively or constitutionally enshrined charter of human rights. While Australia relies on a range of mechanisms to implement human rights--including the doctrine of 'responsible government', the enactment of anti-discrimination and privacy legislation at both state and federal levels, and the operation of state and federal equal opportunity commissions and tribunals (8)--it has recently, and rightly, been said that '[t]he fabric of human rights in Australia resembles more of a patchwork quilt, frayed at the edges, than a secure and comprehensive regime of rights and freedoms'. (9)

Unsurprisingly, the lack of legal protection of human rights in Australia is felt most regularly and acutely by marginalised and disadvantaged individuals and groups. …