Accessible justice par excellence: Lady Hale discusses Human Rights at MLS

The tension between the democratic right of the majority to exercise political power and the democratic need of individuals and minorities to have their rights secured is "very far from being reconciled," The Right Hon Lady Hale said.

The Right Hon Lady Hale

Presenting as notable speaker for the 2015 Caldwell Public Lecture at Melbourne Law School last week, Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, explored the question: If the good name of human rights has sometimes become distorted and devalued, who is to blame?

Lady Hale outlined the complexities judges encounter in trying to define where legal principles lie across multiple jurisdictions.

"If judges have a case, we have to decide it.  Politicians can park it.

"If an act is deemed a violation of human rights, what type of law determines it is unlawful?" she said.

Professor John Tobin, Co-Director of Studies in Human Rights Law at Melbourne Law School, praised Lady Hale's lecture.

"Lady Hale's lecture on the UK Human Rights Act puts to rest so many of the myths that muddy debates about the judicial protection of rights in Australia. Far from usurping the power of the parliament and undermining democracy, judges like Lady Hale remain acutely aware of their role as arbiters of the law rather than law-makers.

"Moreover, the decisions of Lady Hale and her peers demonstrate the benefit of bringing the wisdom and intellect of judges to bear on complex issues involving the balancing of rights and interests between individuals and the state," Professor Tobin said.

In light of the new Conservative Government in the UK pledging to repeal the UK Human Rights Act and instead enact a British Bill of Rights, Lady Hale was adamant the role of a judge is not to politicise the judiciary.

"It is for our parliament to decide what happens to the Human Rights Act. We will eagerly await their proposals, and loyally do whatever they tell us to do," she said.

Lady Hale shared her time once again on Friday with members of the Family and Law Research Group in a seminar at the Law School where she addressed the topic 'Do children's rights matter?'.

Professor Tobin said Lady Hale's generosity to Melbourne Law School had been humbling.

"Lady Hale is a prodigious talent – as a teacher, advocate, law reformer and judge across more than four decades, her contribution to delivering and creating justice is unparalleled.

"Her willingness to meet with and speak to students, faculty and members of the profession has given new meaning to the idea of access to justice. She is indeed an accessible justice par excellence," he concluded.

The Caldwell Public Lectures are part of the generous bequest of Colin Caldwell (1913 – 1989), a Trinity College alumnus.

In 2016 Melbourne Law School will launch a Masters in Human Rights. More information about the program is available on the Human Rights Law website.By Liz Banks-Anderson