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Charter changes sound death knell

Charter changes sound death knell

The proposed amendments to Victoria's Charter of Human Rights will effectively bring it to an end, according to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV). The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulation…

The proposed amendments to Victoria's Charter of Human Rights will effectively bring it to an end, according to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulation Committee's (SARC) Final Report of the Review of the Victorian Charter, tabled in Parliament yesterday (14 September), rejected LIV's argument that the Charter should be expanded to include social and economic rights as well as a right to damages.

While not proposing a complete repeal of the Charter, the report found the Charter had not lead to dramatic changes to the courts system and that key provisions applying to the courts were subject to major uncertainties about their meaning and operation.

"We believe that the issues identified by the committee could be resolved by recommendations to strengthen and clarify its operations in the courts," said LIV president Caroline Counsel, urging Attorney-General Robert Clark not to adopt the SARC's recommendations.

According to Counsel, the amendments put forward by the SARC will amount to a "wholesale wind back" if adopted.

"The majority proposals sound an effective death knell for the Charter as we know it if implemented by the Victorian Government," said Counsel. "In the limited time of the Charter's operation, the overwhelming evidence available has demonstrated the value of the Charter to ordinary Victorians."

According to Counsel, the SARC's final report proposes that the Charter be wound back to apply only to scrutiny of new laws. This, she said, would mean any obligations on public authorities would be repealed, as would any interpretative role for the courts.

The PILCH Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC) has also expressed concern over the SARC's report, claiming that the proposals may increase the number of homeless Victorians.

"Reducing the role of courts and tribunals will make government less accountable for human rights compliance," said HPLC manager and principal lawyer, James Farrell. "There will be very little incentive for public bodies to consider people's rights and weigh up their hardships because there will be no consequences of not doing this."

The Government now has six months to respond to the SARC's report.

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