Overview of the Victorian Charter

The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) entered into full force on 1 January 2008.  The Charter enshrines a body of civil and political rights derived from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These rights include:

  • right to equality before the law;
  • right to life;
  • right to protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • freedom from forced work;
  • freedom of movement;
  • right to privacy and protection of reputation;
  • freedom of thought, conscience religion and belief;
  • freedom of assembly;
  • right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association;
  • right to protection of families and children;
  • right to take part in public life;
  • cultural rights;
  • property rights;
  • right to liberty and security of person;
  • right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty;
  • right to a fair hearing;
  • certain rights in criminal proceedings;
  • right not to be punished more than once; and
  • protection from retrospective laws.

The Charter establishes a ‘dialogue model’ of human rights protection which seeks to ensure that human rights are taken into account when developing, interpreting and applying Victorian law and policy without displacing current constitutional arrangements.  The dialogue between the various arms of government — namely, the legislature, the executive (which includes ‘public authorities’) and the courts — is facilitated through a number of mechanisms.

First, prior to introduction to parliament, bills must be assessed for the purpose of consistency with the human rights contained within the Charter, and a Statement of Compatibility tabled with the Bill when it is introduced to Parliament.

Second, all legislation, including subordinate legislation, introduced to Parliament, must be considered by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee for the purpose of reporting as to whether the legislation is incompatible with human rights.

Third, public authorities must act compatibly with human rights and also give proper consideration to human rights in any decision-making process.

Fourth, so far as possible, courts and tribunals must interpret and apply legislation consistently with human rights.

Fifth, the Supreme Court has the power to declare that a law cannot be interpreted and applied consistently with human rights and to issue a Declaration of Inconsistent Interpretation.  The Government must respond to such a Declaration within six months.

Finally, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has responsibility for monitoring and reporting on the implementation and operation of the Charter.