The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter) is a Victorian law that sets out the basic rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people in Victoria. It is about the relationship between government and the people it serves.
The Charter requires public authorities, such as Victorian state and local government departments and agencies, and people delivering services on behalf of government, to act consistently with the human rights in the Charter.
Twenty fundamental human rights are protected in the Charter because the Victorian Parliament recognises that, as human beings, we have basic rights, including the right to be treated equally, to be safe from violence and abuse, to be part of a family and to have our privacy respected.
In certain circumstances, some rights may be limited. However, this must be necessary and reasonable and there must be clear reasons for the decision.
How does the Charter work?
The Charter requires the Victorian Government, public servants, local councils, Victoria Police and other public authorities) to act compatibly with human rights, and to consider human rights when developing policies, making laws, delivering services and making decisions. So no matter which state or local government agency the community is dealing with, the same human rights apply.
Each new law must be checked against the Charter and requires a Statement of Compatibility to tell Parliament how it relates to human rights. View the Commisson's register of statements of compatibility.
If a law limits the rights set out in the Charter, the Statement of Compatibility should explain how and why. In exceptional circumstances, the Parliament can still pass a law that does not uphold human rights by issuing an override declaration.
This process aims to anticipate potential problems and prevent unfair treatment from occurring in the first place.
In cases that come before it, the Supreme Court can issue a declaration of inconsistent interpretation, which requires the minister who proposed the law to revisit it. However, the Court does not have the power to strike down legislation. Parliament has the final say over the laws of Victoria.
What are the benefits of having the Charter?
The common language of human rights has helped Victorians to navigate the complex patchwork of laws and service standards across government.
The Charter sets our fundamental human rights clearly in one place and makes it a legal obligation for government to comply with them. This has improved transparency and accountability in government by giving all Victorians the tools to question and challenge laws, policies and decisions made by public authorities that have the potential to impact their human rights.
People are achieving real outcomes outside the courts because they are raising their human rights concerns directly with public authorities. This can happen through one-off discussions to rectify a particular case, or through more robust negotiations to rectify serious systemic issues.
See the Commission's Protecting Us All website for case studies showing how the Charter is benefiting Victorians.
How are breaches of human rights addressed?
The Charter does not create a new right to begin legal action for a breach of human rights. Instead, its goal is to get things right at the planning and policy stages.
However, the Charter does allow a person to raise a human rights argument along with existing remedies or legal proceedings.
Victorian complaint handling bodies – such as the Health Services Commissioner, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Disability Services Commissioner and the Office of the Public Advocate – must also give consideration to human rights issues in the complaints they are responsible for resolving.
The Commission does not handle complaints related to the Charter.
The Victorian Ombudsman can receive and investigate complaints about whether administrative actions taken by the government, local councils and public authorities are in breach of, or have not properly considered, human rights.