The State Government must support and strengthen the Victorian Human Rights Charter "for the good of all Victorians", according to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).
Speaking at today's (19 July) public hearing into the parliamentary review of the charter, the president of the LIV, Caroline Counsel, gave evidence in support of the charter.
"In a relatively short period of time, the charter has shaped our laws and the policies and decisions of public authorities in a way that has brought real benefits to individuals and society as a whole," Counsel said, adding that the courts and tribunals have used the charter to deliver benefits to people who "just want a fair go".
Counsel cited a recent "distressing" case where the Department of Human Services took custody of four Aboriginal siblings and placed them in separate non-Aboriginal homes.
"With reference to the charter, the Supreme Court was able to endorse a magistrate's decision to remedy this wrong and ensure that the children were placed into the care of their grandmother subject to strict conditions as to the children's welfare," she said.
"On this occasion, the charter did not stop the wrong from happening. But it helped fix it and, hopefully, decision-makers are now better informed and equipped to make the right decisions in similar circumstances in the future.
Counsel warned against weakening or repealing the charter and said that those quick to dismiss the charter's importance were acting out of "ignorance or privilege".
"They are not aware of how it helps people or are misinformed of its terms or are part of the lucky majority who is well placed to defend and protect their human rights," Counsel said.
"But once informed as to the requirements of the charter and its effects outside of their own sphere of concern, people embrace the charter and welcome its contribution to building a more cohesive and confident community of Victorians."
In its audit of 209 cases, the LIV tried to show that the charter had not been a "runaway train" of litigation. On average, it said that 57 cases a year involved charter issues and this represented less than one per cent of all cases.
The review of the charter, to which law firms Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Arnold Bloch Liebler made submissions, is required to be completed by 1 October 2011.
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