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“Making Rights Real: the developing role of human rights in the exercise of public law discretion”

10 March 2016, The Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard


[1] Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this evening. It is a great pleasure to be with you and an honour to deliver the sixth Macfadyen lecture.

[2] Although at present my energies are focused on conducting the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, you will be relieved to hear that I am not going to revisit the fascinating and learned lecture Lord Saville gave to this august body in 2012,i about the role of public inquiries. Although his lecture (given after he’d served ten years on the Bloody Sunday Inquiryii) has been incredibly interesting for me to read, as someone just a year into heading a major Inquiry of a very complex nature, the breadth and scope of our respective inquiries are quite different. Thus they necessitate very different approaches

[3] This evening I am not going to dwell on the subject of public inquiries except somewhat briefly in conclusion, but rather am going to draw on my experience as a High Court judge in New Zealand and now as a public servant in this country, to talk about human rights protections, and the way in which the enshrinement of international human rights norms in domestic law has impacted on the manner in which public decisions are made today.

The Modern Administrative State

[4] To understand the context in which human rights protections have come to influence public law decisions, some perspective is first necessary on how the courts have shaped and been shaped by the development of the modern administrative state.

[5] There has, in my time as a judge and over the course of all our legal careers, been a significant evolution in the public realm. The modern administrative state is a product of the last few decades only, and looks fundamentally different from the structures that governed our grandparents’ interactions with public authority. In particular, the growth of judicial review since the 1970s has responded to and informed the changing shape of the modern administrative state, recognising that, in the words of Lord Denning, the “task of doing justice as between the subject and the administrative branches of government is just as important as the task of doing justice between man and man”.iii

[6] By 1983 Lord Diplock could write that:

“[t]he extension of judicial control of the administrative process has provided over the last 30 years the most striking feature of the development of the common law in those countries of whose legal systems it provides the source."iv

Those recalibrations of the common law have continued beyond the 1980s, buoyed by a growing recognition of the importance of the rule of law to society. As we are all well aware, the courts have played a leading role in this exercise.


[7] That role has been informed by a recognition that the “object” of the common law “is to maintain the rule of law”.v Pursuit of this object explains the incremental development of the common law to protect human rights.

[8] For Baroness Hale, the rule of law requires an independent judiciary ensuring that decisions are taken in accordance with I doubt many if any people in a free and democratic society would disagree with that definition. But in addition, and as Jeremy Waldron has explained, the rule of law can also be seen to place requirements on the ordinary citizen:

“Usually one thinks of the rule of law as a requirement placed on governments: the government must exercise its power through the application of general rules; it must make those rules public; it must limit the discretion of its officials; it must not impose penalties on people without due process; and so on. But the rule of law applies to the individual, too. So, what does the rule of law require of the ordinary citizen? Well, it requires that she obey the laws that apply to her. She should be alert to changes in the law; she should arrange for her legal advisors to keep her informed of her legal obligations; she should refrain from taking the law into her own hands; and she should not act in any way that impedes, harms, or undermines the operation of the legal system.”vii


[9] Waldron’s point is an important one. The recognition that individuals are not only the holders of rights, but must also obey the laws that apply to them, points to a need to reconcile individual human rights protections with other legal rights and responsibilities. Lord Sumption made a similar point in the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Lecture, where he observed that the “existence and extent” of human rights protections “must be constrained to a greater or lesser extent by the rights of others, as well as by some legitimate collective interests”.viii

[10] Conceptually, this is not a novel proposition. The courts have long been “reconciling” laws that appear to pull in opposite directions, and a number of judicial techniques have been developed over the years to do just that. One is the maxim that a general provision does not derogate from a special one (generalia specialibus non derogant). Another is the maxim that later laws abrogate earlier contrary laws (leges posteriors priores contrarium abrogant).

Accommodating the Rights “Revolution”

[11] In a similar way, consideration by decision-makers of human rights protections is not novel. Long before the enactment of modern bills of rights, courts had established that statutes were to be interpreted and applied in light of rights of a constitutional nature recognised by the common law.ix What has changed in the last two decades in particular is how commonplace the need to “reconcile” human rights protections with other laws has become — at least in part because of the codification of human rights norms. That occurred first at the international level,x and then at the regional and domestic levels, the latter including the enactment of statutory bills of rights such as the New Zealand’s Bill of Rights Act in 1990xi and the UK’s Human Rights Act in 1998.xii

[12] The domestic reception of international human rights has precipitated a cultural change that has permeated public life. Over the latter half of the 20th century and these first 15 years of the 21st century, human rights principles have transformed public law, reconfiguring it so that civil and political rights and freedoms are at its core.xiii In some areas of the law, the equitable doctrine of breach of confidence being one, this has necessitated a reformulation of judge-made law by the courts taking “a broadly horizontalist approach” on account of their section 6xiv obligation not to act in a manner incompatible with Convention rights.xv Even areas as seemingly distant from human rights, such as taxation, are now susceptible to challenge on human rights grounds.xvi

[13] Tonight, I want to explore how the recognition of human rights protections has influenced and circumscribed the exercise of decision makers’ discretion, and whether that has had the practical effect of “Making Rights Real”. It is a basic principle of public law, succinctly summarised by Lord Diplock in the famous GCHQ casexvii that, “the decision maker must understand correctly the law that regulates his decision making power and must give effect to it”xviii. So, as the law has expanded to include the recognition and protection of human rights, how has that affected the regulation of decision-making powers?

[14] The jurisdictions that I will look to this evening — the UK, New Zealand, and Canada — have different stories to tell about the evolving places and functions of human rights protections in their legal and political spheres. As long ago as 1960, Canada introduced its Bill of Rights,xix and its constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedomsxx came into force in 1982. The UK was a founding member of the European Convention in 1953,xxi but citizens first acquired the right of individual petition to Strasbourg in 1966. Domestic human rights protections under the Human Rights Actxxii finally came into force in 2000. New Zealand’s establishment of directly enforceable human rights protections developed somewhere in the middle of this timeline, culminating with the enactment of the Bill of Rights Act in 1990.xxiii

[15] The constitutional status of the three pieces of legislation differs across the jurisdictions.xxiv There are also important differences in the political and constitutional cultures of the three jurisdictions, as Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC, father of the 1990 New Zealand Bill of Rights Act,xxv has noted.xxvi Sir Geoffrey is particularly critical of what he sees as a relatively conservative approach by New Zealand’s courts in applying the Bill of Rights Act, in contrast to that of the UK courts under the Human Rights Act.xxvii Quoting Sir Geoffrey: “In some respects the Courts in the United Kingdom have been bolder in interpreting their Act than their New Zealand counterparts have been in dealing with ours”.xxviii This difference in approach might have its genesis in, and in part be explained by the fact that the New Zealand Law Society made strong submissions against a Bill of Rights for New Zealand,xxix notably attacking the original Bill of Rights proposals as a breach of Diceyan orthodoxy!xxx

[16] Notwithstanding the different political and constitutional cultures in which they are embedded, the human rights statutes in the three jurisdictions all interact broadly with the exercise of discretion by public decision makers — whether that discretion is conferred by statute, guidance or the common law.

[17] The question of how human rights interact with and inform discretionary decisions is obviously crucial for ensuring that decision makers at all levels are making lawful decisions. That will be as true of the Government Minister as it is of the local planning officer and even of an Inquiry Chair. All public structures in which public officials are operating will be susceptible to human rights challenges, so will need to have a clear idea of the human rights obligations attendant on them to discharge their functions lawfully.

[18] Those obligations may be procedural or substantive, in that they might mandate a particular decision making process, or might concentrate on a particular outcome, possibly without worrying too much about how that outcome was reached. In different contexts, the part played by human rights considerations will change — an observation which is borne out by the lack of any consistent approach across and even within the common law jurisdictions. Courts and commentators have mooted various different approaches, each of which casts some light on the way in which human rights may interact with and circumscribe the exercise of public law discretion.

Human Rights Protections are Irrelevant

[19] The first possibility is that human rights are irrelevant to the exercise of public law discretion, at least in the sense of influencing the particular decision to be made.xxxi On this approach the conferring statute alone rules the roost, because expressly or by necessary implication it mandates a decision that contravenes a human rights protection. Lord Hoffman spoke of this potential in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Simms: “Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will not detract from this power. The constraints upon its exercise by Parliament are ultimately political, not legal.”xxxii

[20] The same position applies in New Zealand. Quoting a leading commentary:

“… if the statute can be read to positively authorise an infringing application, then the application cannot be unlawful under the Bill of Rights because that would be to deny effect to the statute and is precluded by s. 4 [of the Bill of Rights, which provides that no court shall hold any provision of an enactment to be impliedly repealed or revoked, or to be in any way invalid or ineffective, or decline to apply it, by reason only that the provision is inconsistent with any right protected in the Bill of Rights]”.xxxiii


[21] This irrelevancy of human rights finds conceptual support in Ronald Dworkin’s famous treatise, Taking Rights Seriously.xxxiv It described discretion as “the hole in a doughnut” — “an area left open by a surrounding belt of restriction”.xxxv By this conception, human rights might form part of the dough that surrounds the hole in the middle, but are irrelevant (and therefore have no practical impact) for decision makers operating within the hole. As de Smith has stated:

“[The] legal concept of discretion implies power to make a choice between alternative courses of action. If only one course can lawfully be adopted, the decision taken is not the exercise of a discretion but the performance of a duty.”xxxvi


[22] So, if fundamental rights considerations forced a decision maker down a particular path, their discretion would be fettered and, as we know, fettering discretion is a basis of unlawfulness. At least, so the argument goes.

Human Rights Protections are Relevant

[23] But to dismiss fundamental rights as unlawful fetters on the exercise of public law discretion is not the mainstream view — and in practice it is a situation that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Most commentators agree that human rights instruments direct legal standards not only at the courts but also at primary decision makers, meaning that human rights should be within the “doughnut hole”xxxvii and relevant to the exercise of public law discretion: either as a permissive consideration (in that fundamental rights can be considered, but do not always need to be), or as a mandatory consideration.

[24] Indeed, that had been the developing jurisprudence in the UK even prior to the introduction of the Human Rights Act.xxxviii In R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Pierson the House of Lords held that:

“A power conferred by Parliament in general terms is not to be taken to authorise the doing of acts by the donee of the power which adversely affect the legal rights of the citizen or the basic principles on which the law of the United Kingdom is based unless the statute conferring the power makes it clear that such was the intention of Parliament.”xxxix


[25] That was made all the more explicit by the passage of the Human Rights Act.xl Section 6 of the Act makes it “unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right”.xli That certainly suggests that, in the UK at least, fundamental rights will tend to be a relevant consideration — and indeed courts in the UK have routinely found that to be so. New Zealand’s position is similar. The country’s Bill of Rights Actxlii provides in section 6 that “wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning”.xliii The courts in New Zealand have held that this influences both the interpretation and the application of statutory discretionxliv although, as noted earlier, there is debate in New Zealand about whether the courts have gone far enough in integrating the Bill of Rights Act into public law, and in particular whether the Bill of Rights Act can be woven into civil law in the same relatively extensive way it has been woven into criminal law.xlv

Weaving Rights into the Fabric of Discretion

[26] Where the courts have oscillated — in the UK, in New Zealand and also in Canada — is on how, practically, human rights protections are to be recognised and provided for in the exercise of public law discretion. Some authorities illustrate a degree of “creativity” in finding ways to accommodate human rights, although this is not unique to human rights law. As I noted earlier, the courts developed and frequently applied techniques to reconcile “competing” laws long before the enactment of the modern statutory bills of rights. The extension of techniques developed in other contexts to human rights adjudication can be seen to be consistent with what Sir John Laws described in his ICLR Lecture “Our Lady of the Common Law”xlvi as the “alchemy of the common law”,xlvii involving taking the “seeds of principle”xlviii from one authority to the next.

[27] Three cases, one each from New Zealand, the UK and Canada, provide examples of the use of “reconciliation” techniques the courts have used to give effect to human rights protections in the exercise of public law discretion. The first is the decision of the New Zealand Court of Appeal in R v Laugalisxlix (1993) 1 HRNZ 446. There the police had conducted a warrant-less search under a statutory power permitting such a search. The court held that — in light of the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure in section 21 of the Bill of Rights Actl — the statutory power could only be used where there was urgency or some other consideration which justified a warrantless search, rather than the normal search warrant procedure. As no such restriction appeared in the statutory power itself, this is an example of “reading down” the application of a statutory power to ensure that human rights were appropriately protected.

[28] In a similar vein, the House of Lords in R v Ali “read words in” to ensure human rights protection. The question for the House was whether the right to a fair trial in Article 6lii was accommodated by a statute restricting the right of accused persons to cross-examine rape complainants about their sexual history. The statute prohibited cross-examination subject to three narrow exceptions. Three members of the House accepted, however, that the right of an accused to a fair trial might well require cross-examination in cases falling outside of the three exceptions. Their interpretive solution, invoking the Human Rights Act,liii was to read into the statute a residual judicial discretion to allow cross-examination. As commentators have noted:

“Significantly, the fact that the legislature had enacted three specific exceptions but no others was not taken to oust the implication of a broader residual power. The legislature’s intent was, instead, put on a higher level of generality. As put by Lord Steyn, it was “realistic to proceed on the basis that the legislature would not have wished to deny the right to a fair trial”. On that premise, R v A was not a case of using s. 3 of the Human Rights Act to make an enactment mean something it was not intended to mean. It was a case of reading in extra words to affirm Parliament’s imputed intention of legislating consistently with the right to a fair trial. Such an interpretation being ‘possible’, s. 3 required that it be made.”liv


[29] R v Sharpelv [2001] 1 SCR 45, a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, is to similar effect. The case concerned the crime of illegal child pornography. The statutory definition of that crime criminalised some expression that was held by the Court to be constitutionally protected under section 2(b) of Canada’s Charter of Rights,lvi which protects freedom of expression. The Court’s solution was to treat the statute as if it contained implied exceptions so as to avoid the criminalisation of the constitutionally protected forms of expression. Again:

“It was not a question of construing any particular words in the enactment: as with R v A the result turned entirely on ‘reading in’, this time by reading in fresh exceptions rather than a further power. This, it was said, preserved the intended force of the statute while recognising the purposes of the Charter.”lvii


[30] If it goes without saying that administrative decision makers must act consistently with the values underlying the grant of discretion, including human rights values, and that they can in appropriate cases “read down” powers or “read in” exceptions to their exercise, the question becomes — to quote from Abella J’s judgment for the Supreme Court of Canada in Doré — “what framework should be used to scrutinize how those values were applied?”lviii

[31] Justice Abella considered a number of earlier Canadian decisions that had answered the question in a range of different ways, before concluding that:

    • The ultimate task of the decision maker is to balance the human rights values with the statutory objectives.

    • In effecting that balancing, the decision maker should first consider the statutory objectives.

    • The second stage is at the core a proportionality exercise, and it requires the decision maker to balance the severity of the interference of the human rights protections with the statutory objectives.lix


[32] On the facts before it, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the decision of a disciplinary body to reprimand a lawyer for the content of a letter he wrote to a judge after a court proceeding. In light of “the excessive degree of vituperation in the letter’s content and tone”,lx the disciplinary body’s conclusion that the letter warranted a reprimand could not be said to represent an unreasonable balance of the lawyer’s expressive rights with the statutory objective of ensuring that lawyers behave with objectivity, moderation and dignity.lxi

[33] A similar approach to reconciling human rights protections with other legal requirements has been taken in New Zealand and on this side of the Atlantic. It suggests that there might be something of a consensus emerging on the question of how human rights can inform the exercise of public law discretion.

[34] The decision of the Supreme Court in Brooker v Policelxii [2007] 3 NZLR 91 illustrates the New Zealand position. Brooker was a criminal law appeal arising out of a protest targeted at waking up a police officer who was asleep at her home having just completed a night shift. The issue was whether the protester’s behavior was properly judged to be “disorderly” and hence an offence. The Supreme Court overturned the protester’s conviction on the basis that the lower courts had applied the wrong test of “disorderly” — being a test that derived from pre-Bill of Rights Actlxiii cases and did not sufficiently protect the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the Bill of Rights Act. Justices Blanchard and McGrath in particular supported that outcome by reference to a balancing approach not dissimilar to Abella J’s in Doré.lxiv Quoting Blanchard J:

“The value protected by the Bill of Rights must be specifically considered and weighed against the value of public order. The court must ask itself whether treating the particular behaviour in the particular circumstances as disorderly constitutes a justified limitation on the defendant’s exercise of the right in question. As a result, public order will less readily be seen to have been disturbed by conduct which is intended to convey information or express an opinion than by other forms of behaviour. The manner in which the defendant chose to exercise the right and the time and place are of course relevant to that inquiry.”lxv


[35] A similar approach can be seen in cases in the UK. One example is provided by Lord Walker’s judgment in Doherty v Birmingham City Council,lxvi an Article 8lxvii challenge about the eviction of a family of gypsies from a piece of land owned by the local authority. Lord Walker observed that “public authorities are bound to take account of human rights”, which must be “woven into the fabric” of their functions.lxviii That suggests both that regard must be had to the impact of the decision on human rights, and to any human rights implications for the way in which the decision is made, for example, whether there is a right for those affected to make representations.

[36] In a similar vein, the Court of Appeal in Lough v First Secretary of State,lxix while dismissing the appellant’s human rights claim, said that in the exercise of discretion in planning matters:

“Recognition must be given to the fact that [Convention rights] are part of the law of England and Wales. That being so, article 8 should … normally be considered as an integral part of the decision maker’s approach to material considerations… the provisions of the Convention should inform the decision maker’s approach to the entire issue.”lxx[emphasis added]


[37] While lending weight to the idea that human rights have fundamentally changed the way in which public decisions must be made, the “normally” that was part of the court’s formulation in that case did raise the spectre of permissive rather than mandatory considerations. Other cases have been clear in asserting that whether Convention rightslxxi will amount to a consideration that must be taken into account is entirely context-specific. In R (on the application of Hurst) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis,lxxii for example, the House of Lords considered the relationship between Convention rights and the relevant considerations doctrine in relation to a decision by a coroner not to resume an inquest after a manslaughter conviction had been obtained in the criminal courts. The House accepted that a public official may be bound to consider the UK’s obligations under the Convention where they are obviously relevantlxxiii — but in a perhaps surprising turn, the majoritylxxiv concluded that Article 2lxxv was not so obviously material to the coroner’s decision whether to resume the inquest that he should be bound to consider it. The apparent surprise of that conclusion, however, is explained by the particular timing of the death in Hurst — prior to the coming into force of the Human Rights Actlxxvi and therefore not benefitting from all the protections contained in the Act. This meant that the House of Lords was considering the materiality of an unincorporated treaty provision. However, given the developing jurisprudence on the detachability of the investigative obligation under Article 2, it may well be that the same conclusion would not be reached today on the substance of the case.

Explicitly Addressing Human Rights

[38] Where human rights protections are relevant, a further question that has arisen is whether the human rights interact with the exercise of discretion in a predominantly outcome focused way. That has certainly been a prominent approach in the UK courts, and the well-known case of Miss Behavin Ltd v Belfast City Councillxxvii provides one strong example.

[39] Miss Behavinlxxviii was a challenge by a sex shop to the refusal by Belfast City Council to issue it with a licence. The Council had a discretion to issue or refuse licences, but Miss Behavin Ltd considered that the rejection of its licence application had breached its Article 10lxxix right to freedom of expression and its right under Article 1 Protocol 1lxxx to peaceful enjoyment of its possessions. The House of Lords disagreed. Lady Hale took the opportunity to summarise the court’s task in human rights litigation as follows:

“In human rights adjudication, the court is concerned with whether the human rights of the claimant have in fact been infringed, not with whether the administrative decision- maker properly took them into account”.lxxxi


[40] In his judgment, Lord Neuberger made the same point by quoting his colleagues in another case about the exercise of discretion, R (SB) v Governors of Denbigh High School:lxxxii

“In that case Lord Bingham of Cornhill said…:
“29 … the focus at Strasbourg is not and has never been on whether a challenged decision or action is the product of a defective decision-making process, but on whether, in the case under consideration, the applicant’s Convention rights have been violated …


To the same effect …, Lord Hoffmann, said…:

“68 … In domestic judicial review, the court is usually concerned with whether the decision-maker reached his decision in the right way rather than whether he got what the court might think to be the right answer. But [the Convention] is concerned with substance, not procedure. It confers no right to have a decision made in any particular way. What matters is the result…””lxxxiii



[41] A similar conclusion was reached in Secretary of State for the Home Department v Nasseri, where the House of Lords observed that, in ordinary judicial review:

“the court is concerned with whether the Secretary of State gave proper consideration to relevant matters rather than whether she reached what the court would consider to be the right answer. But that is not the correct approach when the challenge is based upon an alleged infringement of a Convention rightlxxxiv”.lxxxv


In such a case, it is the substantive outcome that matters, not the route taken to arrive there.

[42] Many commentators have criticised this approach.lxxxvi They have remarked that it dilutes human rights protection by removing any incentive for decision makers to reach decisions by a process that is Convention-sensitive, and that it undermines the establishment of a systemic and institutionalised approach to human rights protection.lxxxvii On the other hand, there is much to be said for an outcome-focussed mentality when you consider the range of decision makers caught by the Human Rights Act.lxxxviii As Lord Hoffman remarked in Denbigh, which was a challenge to a school’s refusal to let a student wear a jilbab (where the school’s policy allowed for other Islamic dress to be worn), everyday decision makers like schools “cannot be expected to make such decisions with textbooks on human rights law at their elbows”.lxxxix If they reach a conclusion that does not infringe Convention rights,xc that must surely suffice.

[43] I note that New Zealand law remains uncertain on whether Bill of Rights Actxci rights need to be explicitly addressed by a decision-maker in their decision. One leading public law practitioner, Grant Illingworth QC, says “yes”, reasoning that Parliament in affirming the Bill of Rights Act must be taken to have considered that the rights it protects will be so material that “anything short of direct consideration of them would not be in accordance with the applicable statutory framework, properly construed”.xcii But another leading practitioner and academic commentator on the Bill of Rights Act, Dr Andrew Butler, has identified what he considers to be “a real danger that if [Bill of Rights Act] rights must always be considered by a decision maker, reference to those rights simply becomes a tick-box exercise designed to defend against any challenge at a later date”.xciii That said, Dr Butler goes on to suggest that:

“Nevertheless, a prudent decision maker will, when conscious that [Bill of Rights Act] rights may be in play, advert to these. For as Lord Rodger offered in Miss Behavin:
‘Of course, where the public authority has carefully weighed the various competing considerations and concluded that interference with a convention right is justified, a court will attribute due weight to that conclusion in deciding whether the action in question was proportionate and lawful.’xcivxcv


Institutionalising a Human Rights Culture

[44] The various approaches taken in the UK, Canada and New Zealand to human rights protections have all contributed to the creation of a culture of justification — a culture whose strength, in Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC’s view, is tied to political and constitutional features of the home jurisdiction. The resulting human rights cultures have stemmed from the place accorded in all three jurisdictions to the need to justify any infringement of rights, and the reliance on proportionality analysis to do that. That has the potential to move the burden in a judicial review from the challenger to show that the limitation of a human rights protection is not proportionate, to the decision maker to defend her choice by demonstrating that the infringement is proportional.xcvi

[45] But what does all of this mean for the “frontline” decision makers faced with the need to exercise discretion on a daily basis? The law does not give one answer, within or across the three jurisdictions, as to how and to what extent human rights considerations should be factored into the various levels of decision making processes. It is, however, clear that the entrenchment of rights across the jurisdictions was intended not only to provide the courts with an additional means of review but to cultivate an administrative culture in which human rights protections have an important place. Attention to rights should therefore be inherent in public decision making at the time the decision is taken, not just relied on as a post-hoc means of rationalising disputed decisions.

[46] Public inquiries are a good example of how human rights are now woven into public structures that existed before rights entrenchment but have evolved in response to the genesis of a rights-culture. Fundamental rights permeate all stages of an inquiry, from the decision to instigate to the manner in which it reports. inquiries are, of course, often the means through which a state discharges investigatory obligations (recognised in the UK in Articles 2 and 3 of the Conventionxcvii) and, where the discretion to initiate has been wrongly withheld, the courts have not been afraid to deem such a decision unlawful. In Kennedy v Lord Advocate,xcviii for example, the decision of the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers to refuse to hold fatal accident inquiries into deaths arising from contaminated blood transfusions was ruled to be in violation of Article 2 of the Convention, and indeed the Penrose Inquiryxcix was subsequently established. The need for an effective investigation under Article 2 was also the factor that led Sir Robert Owen to use his discretion to convert what was then the Litvinenko Inquestc into a full

[47] Within the running of an inquiry, human rights considerations will also be at the fore. Article 10cii might be relevant to a decision on whether to hold an inquiry in public and if so on what terms.ciii Though “Inquiries do not in general attract the protection of the right to a fair hearing under Art[icle] 6 since they do not determine civil rights and obligations”,civ Article 2 or Article 8 might both require the exercise of discretion in favour of making protective orders for witnesses, and will require the involvement of representatives for concerned individuals to the extent necessary to safeguard those individuals’ legitimate interestscv. And of course, the conclusions and recommendations of an inquiry should be reached with a clear focus on human rights, since they will be susceptible to challenge on rights grounds if they fall short.

[48] Much more detail could be given on how fundamental rights inform the conduct of an inquiry — and, indeed, many other public structures would provide a similar example of how the genesis of a rights culture has precipitated a shift across the board in public administration. It is for public officials to maintain and progress that shift, by giving careful attention to fundamental rights when making decisions. It will be for judges, supervising those decisions through judicial review (or comparable appellate mechanisms, as the case may be), to ensure that the entrenchment of rights is maintained and upheld. It is only by the combination of those enterprises that our rights legislation will be able to do the job that it was meant for — making rights real.

[49] And it is only by making rights real that we will protect “from incursion” the important values reflected in human rights protections, so that we can “hand them on to the next generation more or less intact”. That is a task that the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, identified in her Macfadyen lecturecvi last year as a task that lies with the courts. But as I have explained in this lecture, it is also a task that lies, in the first instance and at the “coalface”, with the public officials who have been entrusted with the exercise of public law discretion. For they are charged with exercising that discretion in a manner which ensures that human rights protections are meaningfully woven into the fabric of our society.

[50] Thank you.

*The Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard served as a Judge of the High Court of New Zealand from 1995 until her appointment as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (England and Wales) in April 2015, she resigned from the Inquiry in August 2016.

i The Rt Hon. Lord Saville of Newdigate PC, QC, “The Role and Conduct of Public Inquiries”, Macfadyen Lecture 2013. Lecture available at: (accessed 17 March 2016).

ii The Bloody Sunday Inquiry [online]. Information about the inquiry can be accessed at: (accessed 17 March, 2016).

iii Denning, Sir Alfred, Freedom Under the Law (Stevens, London, 1949), p 96.

iv Mahon v Air New Zealand Ltd [1984] AC 808, at 816G. See also, Re Erebus Royal Commission Air New Zealand Ltd v Mahon [1983] NZLR 662 (PC), p 667.

v Baroness Hale in R (Cart) v Upper Tribunal [2011] UKSC 28, [2012] 1 AC 663 (SC), at para [37].

vi Ibid.

vii Waldron, J “The Rule of International Law”, (2006) 30 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 15, at 16. Article available at: 17 March 2016).

viii Lord Sumption, The Limits of Law, The 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Lecture, Kuala Lumpur, 20 November 2013, at 14. Lecture available at: (accessed 17 March 2016).

ix Michael Fordham QC has collected a helpful number of the authorities on these rights in his Judicial Review Handbook (6th ed, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2012), pp 88–95.

xThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1946 (UDHR), further information and a simplified version of UDHR is available at: (accessed 17 March 2016); and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, available at:

xi New Zealand’s Bill of Rights Act 1990, No 109 [NZBRA 1990].

xii Human Rights Act 1998, cap 42 [1998 Act].

xiii As observed by Tom Hickman in Public Law after the Human Rights Act (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2010), p 1.

xiv 1998 Act, supra note 12, s 6.

xv i.e. rights conferred under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Rome, November 4, 1950; 213 UNTS 221; TS 71 (1953); Cmd 8969) [ECHR]. See Lord Walker, “Naomi Campbell and the Law of Privacy”, Speech to Lincoln’s Inn, 5 February 2016.

xvi See e.g. R (on the application of APVCO19 and others) v HM Treasury and HMRC [2015] EWCA Civ 648, [2015] WLR(D) 279.

xvii Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985] AC 374 (HL) [GCHQ].

xviii Ibid, Lord Diplock at para 410F.

xix Canadian Bill of Rights (S.C. 1960, c. 44).

xx Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter of Rights and Freedoms].

xxi ECHR, supra note 15.

xxii 1998 Act, supra note 12.

xxiii NZBRA 1990, supra note 11.

xxiv For example, the Canadian Charter (supra note 20) is a constitutional act, whereas the 1998 Act (supra note 12) is subject to implied repeal like all other pieces of legislation: see A v B [2009] UKSC 12, [2010] 2 AC 1 where the UK Supreme Court found that s 65(2)(a) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (cap 23), prevailed over s7 (2) of the 1998 Act in limiting the forum in which claims against the intelligence services could be brought under s 7(1)(a) of the 1998 Act.

i NZBRA 1990, supra note 11.

xxvi See Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC, “The Bill of Rights After Twenty-One Years: The New Zealand Constitutional Caravan Moves On?”, (2013) 11 NZJPIL 257, p 257. Article available at: (accessed 17 March 2016) [Sir Geoffrey, The Bill of Rights After Twenty-One Years].

xxvii 1998 Act, supra note 12. This view has led Sir Geoffrey to express the concern in New Zealand that: “Our constitutional law is too thin and the flexibility of the public law system knows no limits. This sets up a situation where ‘The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment’”. See "Make Bill of Rights supreme law", LawTalk, Issue 873, 10 September 2015, pp 24–25. Article available at: (accessed 17 March 2016).

xxviii See Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC, “The Bill of Rights 15 Years On?”, Keynote Speech, Ministry of Justice Symposium: The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, 10 February 2006, p 13.

Speech available at: (accessed 17 March 2016) [Sir Geoffrey, The Bill of Rights 15 Years On].


xxix Ibid, p 5.

xxx See Sir Geoffrey, The Bill of Rights After Twenty-One Years, supra note 14, pp 262–263 and 274–275.

xxxi They might be relevant to a declaration of incompatibility, in a jurisdiction where such a remedy is available.

xxxii R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Simms [2000] 2 AC 115 (HL), at para 131.

xxxiii Rishworth, P, et al, The New Zealand Bill of Rights (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003), p 140 [Rishworth].

xxxiv Dworkin, R, Taking Rights Seriously (Duckworth, London, 1977) [Dworkin].

xxxv Ibid, p 31.

xxxvi De Smith, De Smith’s Judicial Review of Administrative Action (4th Evans ed, Stevens, London, 1980), p 278.

xxxvii See Dworkin, supra note 34.

xxxviii 1998 Act, supra note 12.

xxxix Lord Browne-Wilkinson, R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Pierson [1997] UKHL 37, [1998] AC 539, at p 575.

xl 1998 Act, supra note 12.

xli Ibid, s 6(1).

xlii NZBR 1990, supra note 11.

xliii Ibid, s 6.

xliv See e.g. Keith J in Quilter v Attorney-General [1998] 1 NZLR 523 (CA), p 530.

xlv See e.g. Sir Geoffrey, The Bill of Rights 15 Years On, supra note 16, p 5 (“for the most part the impact has been confined to the criminal law. Its full effect on civil litigation is yet to be felt”).

xlvi Lord Justice Laws, “Our Lady of the Common Law”, ICLR Lecture, 1 March 2012. Lecture available at: (accessed 17 March 2016).

xlvii Ibid, para 1.

xlviii Ibid.

xlix R v Laugalis (1993) 1 HRNZ 446.

l NZBRA 1990, supra note 11, s 21.

li R v A [2001] UKHL 25, [2002] 1 AC 45.

lii ECHR, supra note 15, Art 6.

liii 1998 Act, supra note 12.

liv Rishworth, supra note 21, p 147.

lv R v Sharpe [2001] 1 SCR 45.

lvi Charter of Rights and Freedoms, supra note 20, s 2b.

lvii Rishworth, supra note 21, p 150.

lviii Doré v Barreau du Québec [2012] 1 SCR 395, para [24] [Doré].

lix Ibid, at para [55]–[58].

lx Ibid, at para [71]. The judge was called “loathsome”, “arrogant” and “fundamentally unjust” and was accused by the lawyer of “hid[ing] behind [his] status like a coward”; having a “chronic inability to master any social skills”; being “pedantic, aggressive and petty in [his] daily life”; having “obliterate[d] any humanity from [his] judicial position”; having “non-existent listening skills”; having a “propensity to use [his] court — where [he] lack[s] the courage to hear opinions contrary to [his] own — to launch ugly, vulgar, and mean personal attacks”, which “not only confirms that [he is] as loathsome as suspected, but also casts shame on [him] as a judge”; and being “[un]able to face [his] detractors without hiding behind [his] judicial position”.

lxi Ibid. at para [71].

lxii Brooker v Police [2007] 3 NZLR 91 [Brooker].

lxiii NZBRA 1990, supra note 11.

lxiv Doré, supra note 58.

lxv Brooker, supra note 62, at para [59].

lxvi Doherty v Birmingham City Council [2008] UKHL 57, [2009] 1 AC 367[Doherty].

lxvii ECHR, supra note 15, Art 8.

lxviii [Doherty] supra, note 66 at para [109].

lxix Lough v First Secretary of State [2004] EWCA Civ 905, [2004] 1 WLR 2557.

lxx Ibid, at para [48].

lxxi i.e. rights conferred under ECHR, supra note 15.

lxxii R (on the application of Hurst) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2007] UKHL, 2007] 2 AC 189.

lxxiii Ibid, at para [79].

lxxiv Ibid, Lady Hale and Lord Mance dissenting.

lxxv ECHR, supra note 15, Art 2.

lxxvi 1998 Act, supra note 12.

lxxvii Miss Behavin Ltd v Belfast City Council [2007] UKHL 19 [Miss Behavin].

lxxviii Ibid.

lxxix ECHR, supra note 15, Art 10.

lxxx Ibid, Article 1 Protocol 1.

lxxxi Miss Behavin, supra note 77, at para [31].

lxxxii R (SB) v Governors of Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15, [2007] 1 AC 100 [Denbigh].

lxxxiii Miss Behavin, supra note 77, at para [89].

lxxxiv i.e. a right conferred under ECHR, supra note 15.

lxxxv Secretary of State for the Home Department v Nasseri [2009] UKHL 23, [2010] 1 AC 1, at para [12].

lxxxvi See e.g. Tom Hickman, a public law barrister and academic at University College London, in Public Law after the Human Rights Act (Hart, Oxford, 2010), p 228; and more generally the public law academic Michael Taggart in “Reinventing Administrative Law” in Public Law in a Multi-Layered Constitution (Bamforth and Leyland ed, Hart, Oxford, 2003), pp 332–333; and the human rights academic Claudia Geiringer in “Shaping the Interpretation of Statutes: Where Are We Now in the s 6 Debate?” in New Zealand Law Society, Using the Bill of Rights in Civil and Criminal Litigation (Continuing Legal Education NZLS, Wellington, July 2008), p 1.

lxxxvii Mead, D “Outcomes Aren’t all: Defending Process-Based Review of Public Authority Decisions under the Human Rights Act”, [2012] PL 61, pp 76–78.

lxxxviii 1998 Act, supra note 12.

lxxxix Denbigh, supra note 82, at para [68].

xc i.e. rights conferred under ECHR, supra note 15.

xci NZBRA 1990, supra note 11.

xcii Illingworth, G, QC, “The Bill of Rights and the Principle of the Legality in Administrative Law”, in New Zealand Law Society, Using Human Rights Law in Litigation (Continuing Legal Education NZLS, Wellington, June 2014), p 1, at p 8.

xciii Butler, A, Dr, “The Bill of Rights: A view from the trenches”, Address to the Higher Courts Update, 16 October 2014, p 8 [Butler].

xciv Miss Behavin, supra note 77, at para [26].

xcv Butler, supra note 93, at p 9.

xcvi Jowell, J, “Beyond the Rule of Law: Towards Constitutional Judicial Review”, [2000] PL 671, p 680.

xcvii ECHR, supra note 15, Arts 2 & 3.

xcviii Kennedy v Lord Advocate [2008] CSOH 21.

xcix The Scottish Public Inquiry into Hepatitis C/HIV acquired infection, from NHS treatment in Scotland with blood and blood products, was chaired by the Rt Hon Lord Penrose from January 2009. The final report (published on 25 March 2015) is available at: (accessed 17 March 2016).

c Alexander Litvinenko (a former Russian spy who fled to the UK in 2000) died on 23 November 2006 in London, after ingesting radioactive polonium-210 — believed to have been administered in a cup of tea, three weeks prior to his death, by former Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun. The inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death opened in 2013, but was delayed in May/June 2013 when the coroner decided a public inquiry would be preferable.

ci The Litvinenko Inquiry, opened at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in January 2015. On 21 January 2016, it reported its conclusion that Mr Litvinenko's murder was "probably" approved by President Putin. The final report is available at: (accessed 17 March 2016).

cii ECHR, supra note 15, Art 10.

ciii As in R (on the application of Wagstaff) v Secretary of State for Health [2000] EWHC 634 (Admin), [2001] 1 WLR 292.

civ Beer, J, Public Inquiries (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011), para [5.08], citing Fayed v UK (1994) [1994] ECHR 27, 18 EHRR 393.

cv Edwards v UK [2002] 12 BHRC 190.

cvi Rt Hon. Beverley McLachlin, PC, “Maintaining Public Confidence in the Courts in the 21st Century”, Macfadyen Lecture 2015, para [5]. The lecture is available at: < href=""> (accessed 17 March 2016).

About the lecturer

The Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard

The Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard served as a Judge of the High Court of New Zealand from 1995 until her appointment as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (England and Wales) in April 2015, she resigned from the Inquiry in August 2016.