The annual RMIT lecture, which celebrates the legacy of politician and chief justice George Higinbotham (1826-1892), explores topical legal issues and the interaction between the law and society.
Professor Mark Farrell, Head, Graduate School of Business and Law welcomed guests and introduced Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, AC, who in turn introduced the guest speaker Sir Patrick Elias, QC.
Sir Patrick, who presented on the topic 'Has the Human Rights Act politicised the judiciary?’, began his address by explaining how the United Kingdom’s 1998 Act had given legal effect to the European Convention on Human Rights in the United Kingdom.
“For the first time, the English judiciary found itself in a position where it was called upon to measure legislation passed by the Parliament, and the actions of the executive government, against international human rights standards. Some judges embrace that power with more enthusiasm than others” Sir Patrick said.
“This in turn had the inevitable consequence that the courts found themselves faced with the need to make political decisions.”
Sir Patrick warned against the danger of the British courts placing themselves in the shoes of the executive government, rather than measuring their actions against the standards set out in the Convention and endorsed by the 1998 Act.
“To adopt too interventionist an approach would blur the distinction between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary in a manner which would not be consistent with the fundamental constitutional principle of the separation of powers.”