‘Lawyers should be joiners’ in protests against unethical laws: Michael Kirby
In light of controversy and protests on transgender laws in Japan, former justice of the High Court Michael Kirby told Lawyers Weekly that “lawyers should be joiners”, adding the profession should be prepared to take the lead on standing up for critical change.
In 2004, Japan joined Germany, the Netherlands and Australia in implementing gender recognition laws which required people who identify as transgender to endure surgery before the country would recognise their gender. Since then, these and other countries have updated their laws to declare it isn’t a requirement – all except Japan.
“To require people to undergo sterilisation and radical surgery as an obligation to have their status as transgender recognised is completely disproportional to what they are seeking,” Mr Kirby explained.
They are seeking changes to their birth certificates, to their passports and the identity passes and that is simply documentation.
“Their dignity should be recognised and not require this most radical surgery.”
Mr Kirby, along with the International Bar Association (IBA) – of which he is co-chair – intervened after the Supreme Court of Japan declined an application to alter the laws. He, and other human rights organisations, are protesting against these existing laws.
The IBA works with countries around the world to protest against “assaults on judicial independence”, and upholds “principle of judicial integrity and legal integrity”. Mr Kirby is encouraging lawyers around the world to join in, noting “lawyers should be joiners”.
“Young law students above all should be joiners,” Mr Kirby said, adding: “They should join the bodies, national and international, they should give leadership, they should be involved, they should get to know the victims of suppression and injustices and should speak up for those victims because the law is about values and values of human rights are universal and lawyers have to be in the lead.”
The IBA has several annual conferences coming up in 2020 – and is about to celebrate the United Nation’s 75th anniversary. Mr Kirby said it is a chance for the profession to either attend or to join protests in their own countries against unethical laws.
“Not every organisation or lawyer can afford to go to the conferences,” Mr Kirby noted. “[However, lawyers] can get involved in human rights bodies in their own country and become leaders of their communities in explaining human rights deficiencies.”
Here in Australia, lawyers can get involved in protesting against the proposed religious discrimination bill, which Mr Kirby said is a “breach of human rights”: “This is something of which Australian lawyers should be speaking up and taking a lead role.”