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Charter's future up for discussion

Charter's future up for discussion

Supporters of Victoria's Human Rights Charter will meet tonight (20 September) to determine if it can be saved.Karen Toohey, the acting commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human…

Supporters of Victoria's Human Rights Charter will meet tonight (20 September) to determine if it can be saved.

Karen Toohey, the acting commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, will chair a forum that will consider the implications of the Parliamentary review into the Charter.

Handed down on 14 September last week, the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulation Committee (SARC) report rejected the argument from the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) that the Charter should be expanded to include social and economic rights.

LIV president Caroline Counsel said that the proposals put forward by the Parliamentary Committee effectively sounded the "death knell" for the Charter.

Counsel will be speaking at tonight's event. Other speakers include Ben Schokman, the director of International Human Rights Advocacy with the Human Rights Law Canter, and Cath Smith, the CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly ahead of tonight's event, Schokman, who is on secondment at the Centre from DLA Piper, said he remained optimistic that the Charter had a future in Victoria.

"The overwhelming number of submissions to the SARC inquiry demonstrate strong support within the community for the retention of the Charter and the effective presentation and promotion of human rights in Victoria," he said.

The SARC review received nearly 4000 submissions, with around 95 per cent of those supporting its current form or proposing measures to strengthen it.

Despite this, the SARC review recommended that it not be expanded as in its current form. It reported that the Charter had done little to change the Victorian courts system.

"It is fair to say the SARC report is profoundly disappointing," said Schokman. "It doesn't reflect the evidence provided to the Committee."

A vast array of legal groups have criticised the report.

The PILCH Homeless Person's Legal Clinic principal lawyer, James Farrell, said that by reducing the role of courts and tribunals, the government would be less accountable for human rights compliance.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance said that if the SARC recommendations are adopted, the human rights of vulnerable people in Victoria will be put at risk.

The Victorian Government has six months to respond to the SARC report.

Tonight's forum in Exhibition Street is open to the public and attendance is free.

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