find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Insurance Lawyer (3-5 PAE)
Category: Insurance and Superannuation Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Dynamic organisation ·
View details
Legal Counsel
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: North Sydney NSW 2060
· 18 month fixed term contract · 3-5 years PQE with TMT exposure
View details
Robertson hits back on bill of rights

Robertson hits back on bill of rights

Pre-eminent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson hit back at opponents of a statutory bill of rights at talk delivered on Wednesday 1 April.In his talk, delivered at the City Recital Hall in…

Pre-eminent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson hit back at opponents of a statutory bill of rights at talk delivered on Wednesday 1 April.

In his talk, delivered at the City Recital Hall in Sydney, Robertson responded first to the argument that given Australia's good human rights performance, we don't need a bill of rights.

Robertson pointed out that Australia doesn't perform as well on many human rights indicators as people might expect - for example, the Freedom House Index of Global Press Freedoms ranks Australia just 39th in the world, while the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index ranks Australia 21st.

"We don't have an awful record, we do quite well," Robertson conceded. "But we don't do as well as we think we do, and we aren't as good as we might be."

Robertson also responded to the argument that a statutory bill of rights would give too much power to unelected judges at the expense of an elected parliament. A claim, he said, that is argued "most precipitously by unelected journalists".

The fact that politicians are elected, Robertson said, "doesn't mean they should be able to do anything they want", and he pointed out that the reason for having an unelected judiciary is to act a check on political power.

"It's part of the democratic system to have unelected judges and journalists keeping the buggers honest," he said.

Robertson pointed out that - unlike the position in the US or Canada - the Australian Government is only contemplating a statutory bill of rights and has expressly excluded constitutional change.

Judges would not, therefore, have the power to knock down laws they deemed to be inconsistent with the bill of rights - they would only have power to make declarations - declarations which the government could choose to ignore.

"This doesn't seem to me to be giving huge amounts of power to judges," he said. "It provides the courts with better principles to make fairer decisions."

Finally, he challenged the argument that has been put forward by some media organisations that a bill of rights is being pushed for by lawyers only because it would provide them with a "banquet" of work. Robertson pointed out that "there are lawyers and there are lawyers", explaining that while there are lawyers who work in large corporate law firms who earn a lot of money, they won't be the ones deriving work from a bill of rights.

The lawyers who will do so, Robertson argued, aren't in it for the money. They work in public interest originations such as legal aid, community legal centers and the Aboriginal Legal Service, where salaries are often less than those of mid-level journalists.

"The argument that [a bill of rights] will be a banquet for lawyers is an argument that doesn't understand the legal profession," he said.

Robertson's talk was an out-of-season event forming part of the Sydney Writers Festival, which officially kicks off in May.

- By Zoe Lyon

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Robertson hits back on bill of rights
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC
Aug 17 2017
Where social fault lines meet the justice gap in Aus
After just returning from a tour of the Northern Territory, LCA president Fiona McLeod SC speaks wit...
Marriage equality flag
Aug 17 2017
ALHR backs High Court challenge to marriage equality postal vote
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has voiced its support for a constitutional challenge to ...
Give advice
Aug 17 2017
A-G issues advice on judiciary’s public presence
Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis QC has offered his advice on the public presence of jud...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...