Human rights and the rule of law

Liberty Victoria is dedicated to the protection, strengthening and promotion of civil liberties and human rights. These encompass a range of rights and entitlements that all should enjoy in a free and democratic society. They have emerged from centuries of struggle: a struggle which continues in many parts of the world and still breaks out sporadically here in Australia. There is much debate about the extent and nature of human rights; nevertheless the great international instruments, which have resulted from the many struggles for human rights, have defined a consistent and coherent body of norms. They include the fundamental rights to life, liberty and property; the freedoms of belief, expression and association; injunctions against discrimination and the exercise of arbitrary power; and various rights to due process under the law. Some of these rights such as the right to life and freedom of belief are absolute and unqualified but most are subject to restrictions necessary and reasonable for the proper ordering of a free and democratic society. Much of the debate about the nature and extent of human rights concerns the qualifications and restrictions which might properly be placed on them. Civil liberties and human rights mark out the limits of State or governmental power and in some respects also limit the freedom of action of individuals and other legal entities. They generally operate negatively to prohibit conduct inconsistent with a right or liberty but can also compel conduct where an omission or failure to act would deny a right or liberty. The manner in which human rights and civil liberties can best be protected and promoted is a matter of controversy in Australia today. Liberty Victoria supports the statutory charter of rights model, which preserves the sovereignty of Parliament and avoids the uncertainties of the bill of rights, or constitutionally entrenched, model. By whatever means human rights and civil liberties are recognised in our law they are meaningless without the rule of law. It is notorious that some of the most repressive regimes in history had constitutions brimming with human rights but no means of vindicating them. For human rights to be meaningful, there must be a legal system in which they can be enforced. This requires an independent judiciary to try cases without fear or favour and access to justice for all. The procedural rights such as equality before the law and right to a fair trial are thus vital and must be jealously guarded especially for unpopular causes and persons.