Episode 10. Hilary Charlesworth on Bills of Rights

The widespread agreement on the importance of human rights in liberal democracies masks sharp differences between governments’ methods of protecting these rights. What does a country gain by enacting a bill of rights? Do countries that lack bills of rights, like Australia, protect human rights as well as those, like the United States and Canada, that have them? Does it make a difference if such rights are written into a foundational government document, as they in the United States, or if they are at least ostensibily on par with all other legislation, as they are in the United Kingdom?

In this episode of Public Ethics Radio, human-rights lawyer Hilary Charlesworth leads us through the challenging questions posed by the institutionalization of human rights.

Hilary Charlesworth is Professor of International Law and Human Rights in the Australian National University College of Law and Director of the Centre for International Governance and Justice at the ANU.

Click here to download the episode (41:10, 9.4 mb, MP3), or click on the online media player below. You can also download the transcript.


The Hamilton quote from the introduction is from Federalist no. 84.

Charlesworth mentions Australia’s National Human Rights Consultation. More details here.

If you’re interested, you can read the Australian constitution here. Wikipedia also has a nice, detailed article on it. The U.S. Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendements to the U.S. constitution (Wikipedia). And the Canadian Charter is online here (Wikipedia).

Charlesworth mentions John Stanhope, the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory or ACT (where Canberra and the Australian National University are located) who introduced the ACT Human Rigths Act; he is still in office.

You can read the text of the British Human Rights Act here.

Charlesworth’s ANU research project on the Human Rights Act is ACTHRA, the ACT Human Rights Act Research Project.

Christian asked a question about “post-Trudeau Canada.” By this he refers to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was responsible for Canada’s adoption of the Canadian Charter in 1982.

The article describing a dialogue between the various branches of government due to the Canadian charter is available for free online. It is: Peter W. Hogg and Allison A. Bushell, “The Charter Dialogue between Courts and Legislatures (Or Perhaps the Charter of Rights Isn’t Such a Bad Thing After All),” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 35, no. 1 (1997): 75–124.

For the record, Charlesworth is correct that only eight amendments to the Australian constitution have been enacted. Details on the failed 1988 attempt to extend rights protection here.

See the New Zealand Human Rights Act here (Wikipedia), the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights here (Wikipedia), and the European Convention on Human Rights here (Wikipedia).

Listeners unfamiliar with the notion of “wrongful life” might want to check out this helpful post over on the Genomics Law Report. Adam Doerr explains:

In a typical wrongful life case, a physician or geneticist fails to diagnose a severe genetic problem in a fetus. The problem is typically so severe that the parents allege that they would have terminated the pregnancy if they had known of the problem. When the child—or a parent acting on the child’s behalf—brings a claim in court alleging that the physician or geneticist was negligent in failing to diagnose the problem, it is referred to as a “wrongful life” claim.

Charlesworth mentions a recent case where Australian legislators didn’t vote along party lines. You can read one Liberal legislator’s thoughts on the issue in a speech a gave to Parliament.

Here is the backstory on Al-Kateb v. Godwin. Read the justices’ reasoning here.

And finally, you can find out more about the European Court of Human Rights on its website.

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One response to “Episode 10. Hilary Charlesworth on Bills of Rights

  1. Which wordpress template are you using?

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