LAWYERS’ position to see how Australians’ rights are infringed has driven passionate debate in the profession around whether a bill of rights should be introduced, according to a Law Council of Australia executive.
As the Law Council today sent out another media release around the need for a bill of rights, The New Lawyer spoke to Law Council secretary-general Bill Grant about why the legal profession is so embroiled in the pros and cons of further legislation to protect Australians’ human rights.
The Law Council has repeatedly reacted to newspaper reports covering the Bill of Rights debate. Grant says it’s been forced to respond to dialogue around bill of rights sceptic and priest Frank Brennan and his chairing of a panel that is now gauging community attitudes towards a charter of rights.
“We are interested in making sure that both sides of the argument are put forward appropriately. So whenever you have a rush of stories around a negative side, well of course we want to make sure it’s balanced on the positive side,” he said today.
The bill of rights is an important issue for the legal profession, the Law Council and its constituent bodies because “lawyers are probably best placed to actually see how those rights are being infringed on a daily basis”, Grant said.
“There is a real concern in the legal profession that the current arrangements are not satisfactorily protecting people’s rights … A comprehensive charter of rights, including the traditional civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.
Although the Law Council argues for a federal charter or bill of human rights, Grant concedes that there is intelligent debate occurring from within the ranks of the legal profession on both sides.
“Of course not every lawyer believes in a bill of rights. We are seeing some very eminent lawyers now having some very reasonable arguments about why they don’t believe something like a charter of rights is the way to go.
Some of these eminent lawyers think the current protections are adequate.
“On the other hand a lot of just as eminent lawyers believe passionately the other way. So there is an ongoing debate in the profession and I wouldn't suggest that all lawyers support the law council's position.”
Law Council president John Corcoran today reaffirmed its support for a human rights charter. It rebuffed claims that such legislation would have done little to protect the rights of high-profile victims such as Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez.
“A Charter would include specific legal protection for the right to liberty and the right to be treated humanely while in detention,” Corcoran said.
Grant said rights were most under challenge during the last few years of the last government.
“Not always by some inappropriate action, you had all sorts of reasons to pass terrorism laws. But you wanted a frank and full debate on how far those protections should go. I suppose what we would argue that a charter or bill of rights gives you a framework with which you can have that debate.”