The evidence is in: the Charter of Human Rights is working for all Victorians

A collection of case studies that illustrate the many benefits delivered by Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has been published by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC). The HRLC’s Ben Schokman said the 101 case studies – taken from the various submissions made to the Victorian Government’s 2011 Review of the Charter – paint an overwhelming picture of an effective and efficient Charter that delivers tangible benefits to all Victorians.

“To see all of the case studies presented together for the first time really reminds you of the breadth of the Charter’s impact - it’s had a very positive effect on Victorians from all walks of life,” Mr Schokman said.

Whilst the Charter has been used in a number court cases to highlight arbitrary or unjust policies and decisions, Mr Schokman said the Charter’s real strength was its ability to effect change outside of the courtroom.

“The Charter is primarily a preventative tool. By requiring parliament to consider the human impact of its decisions, the Charter helps to weed out problems in legislation and policies. The changes to superannuation legislation are a good example where review helped to ensure the laws do not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or age,” Mr Schokman said.

The case studies also demonstrate improvements at the ‘coalface’ of government service delivery.

“The Charter has encouraged and enabled Government Departments and public authorities to embed the principles of freedom, respect, equality and dignity in their work. It has also provided a framework by which human rights can be more effectively articulated and realised without resorting to legal action. The 40 year old man living in an aged care home is a good example of how simple advocacy highlighting the rights protected by the Charter can help secure a far better outcome,” Mr Schokman said.

Another example in the publication is a case study about a 96 year old woman who was given 60 days notice to vacate the home which she had lived in for 21 years. As she was unable to find alternative accommodation in this period and risked becoming homeless, she contested the decision arguing it was a breach of her Charter rights and was given an additional 30 days and assistance to find appropriate accommodation to move into.

Mr Schokman also highlighted the cost-effectiveness of the Charter.

“The evidence provided by these case studies clearly shows that Victoria’s Charter has ensured the fundamental rights of Victorians of all walks of life are protected. And it has done this for around 50 cents per Victorian per year. It’s been a very wise investment,” Mr Schokman said.

The publication, Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights & Responsibilities in Action: Case studies from the first four years of operation, is available online and the HRLC hopes it will be a useful resource for organisations and individuals to learn about the ways the Charter of Human Rights works for Victorians.