Response from the Commissioner to the DWD ACT Inc. Submission

The response from the ACT Human Rights Commission on the submission made by Dying With Dignity ACT on our human rights and an elective death.

We refer to your email of 10 July 2014, regarding Dying with Dignity ACT. Thank you for raising with us your concerns with the current ACT law and your analysis of the human rights implications.

In your letter, you seek to make a complaint to this Commission regarding the issues of incompatibility of ACT and Commonwealth law with International human rights instruments, most particularly the interaction between the Commonwealth Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 and ACT Human Rights Act 2004. While s.30 of the ACT Human Rights Act does require that all ACT laws be interpreted consistently with human rights, the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to take complaints of alleged breaches of the HR Act. Such matters against public authorities must commence in the ACT Supreme Court. We understand that staff from the Commission have attempted to assist you gain legal advice on how to commence such proceedings.

You refer to the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 being in conflict with the ACT Human Rights Act 2004. As an ACT Government statutory authority, our Commission does not have the jurisdiction or expertise to provide legal advice on matters of Constitutional law, but it is likely that as the ACT HR Act is an Act of the ACT Legislative Assembly, the Commonwealth ACT (Self-Government) Act would prevail if there were any inconsistency.

Thank you also for your analysis of the obligations of ACT Government under international human rights law, particularly the right to life. As outlined above, at present the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to consider this matter in detail, however we do note that the question of whether the right to life includes a right to determine the manner of death is not a settled one internationally. See for example the European Court of Human Rights cases of Gross v. Switzerland and Pretty v United Kingdom, and the House of Lords decision in R (Purdy) v DPP [2010] 1 AC 345.

As law reform to both Commonwealth and ACT legislation is your desired aim, it appears than discussing these matters with both the ACT and Commonwealth Attorneys-General may be the most appropriate avenues to seek change. Alternatively, you may like to seek legal advice regarding your concerns that ACT Government policies, practices and legislation are unreasonably limiting your rights, including your freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.

We have included a brochure with several options for seeking legal advice in the ACT. We note that the Purdy case above concerned policies of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Britain, and it may be that you wish to discuss these matters with the ACT DPP also.

Thank you again for raising these matters with us.

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