More than one in 10 Victorian lawyers are unaware of the existence of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, according to new research released today (29 August).
A study into how Victoria's legal profession understands and uses the Charter, which is now under review by the Victorian Government, showed that 13 per cent of respondents did not actually know the Charter exists.
According to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV), this can be explained by the fact the Charter is not relevant to some areas of legal practice, or could indicate a failing in legal training and professional development.
Of the 87 per cent of respondents who were aware of the Charter, only 54 per cent had any experience in dealing with it. From this pool, 58 per cent agreed that the Charter has had a positive impact on the interpretation of laws by Victorian courts and tribunals, while 14 per cent disagreed.
In addition, 56 per cent of this pool agreed that the Charter has had, or is having, a positive effect on policy-making by public authorities. Thirteen per cent disagreed with this statement, while 6 per cent said the Charter should be repealed altogether.
In what is becoming a familiar tune, the majority of respondents (59 per cent) with Charter experience reported having difficulties applying or understanding the Charter, as well as in respect to knowing the nature or scope of rights within the Charter. Almost half (47 per cent) had trouble in connection with remedies, while 38 per cent had difficulties in respect to establishing a cause of action.
Despite these difficulties, the LIV said the research, which was conducted by independent market research company Colmar Brunton and is contained in the LIV's Charter Impact Project Report, shows that most lawyers would like to see the Charter retained and strengthened.
The report also said they would like to see the Charter rendered less complex and more accessible, and believe they would benefit from more information and training on the Charter's uses.
"This survey tells us that most lawyers recognise the Charter's positive impact," said LIV president Caroline Counsel. "They want it to stay in place to remind government when policy makingto better protect and promote human rights."
The Charter Impact Project, funded by the Victoria Law Foundation, was commissioned by the LIV.
Over 400 lawyers from throughout the profession, including the judiciary, responded to the online survey. In-depth interviews with lawyers with Charter experience were also conducted.
The Charter is currently being reviewed by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC), and a report outlining its findings is due by 1 October.