Interrelationship of Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens


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The instance of the law, while complex in variety, can be derived from the aims and means of human action. These qualities also boast imperative influence upon the ever-changing constructs of thought and morality that form the basis for the societies in which the law may preside. Despite such inevitable change, the aim of the law – and by extension, society – has remained relatively similar as to mediate potential conflicts between the attitudes and values of differing individuals. However, to appropriately represent the collective majority and serve its purpose of maintaining order, the law and the means of its undertaking must constantly change. As a consequence of the fascist regimes and warfare that defined the twentieth century, the modern world has placed a large weight on the goal of relative world peace and equality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), is a document established by the United Nations (UN) on 10 December 1948, that sets out the basic rights and freedoms of all people, and is arguably the most important and successful notion of the modern international community. Most notably, the declaration established the concept of human rights; a legal or moral entitlement that refers to how a person should be treated simply because they are human. With a majority of the modern discourse constantly relying on these rights, the intertwining notion of responsibility is largely ignored. Responsibility is a legal or moral obligation that a person may have to others, and as Eleanor Roosevelt loosely stated in her address of the 1948 UN commission, the very existence of a right supposes the existence of a corresponding responsibility, with the proper engagement of either depending largely on the perception of the individual or collective in which it is presented amongst. Since 1948, human rights have generally been expressed in the form of international treaties, customary international law, and general principles of wellbeing and equality. However, these agents of human rights also outline the obligations that governments have to act in certain ways or refrain from certain acts, to promote and protect the fundamental rights of all people and groups. On a domestic scale, Australia has agreed to uphold and respect all notable and reasonable developments that arise within international discourse through its myriad of legal and moral rights. For a right to have a legal basis, it must be enforced and protected by a suitable authority. 

The Australian government derives these legal rights through the Constitution, statute law, and common law. The Constitution sets out two types of rights: express rights and implied rights. Express rights such as s 116, explicitly reference the right to freedom of religion. However, implied rights, such as freedom of speech, need to be ‘read between the lines and do not necessarily have to be upheld. Examples of rights protected by statute are contained in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), which prevent the discriminatory exclusion or restriction of people. The introduction of such legislation allows for the reform of previous legal processes and provides increased flexibility relative to that of the constitutional or statutory charters of other nation-states. Rights also have their origins in the common law. In Dietrich v R [1992] HCA 57; the High Court ruled that individuals have the right to a fair trial and legal representation. In contrast to legal rights, moral rights are much more flexible. They are generally not enforceable and only those who believe that they are binding are likely to behave accordingly. While many laws have been passed and complied with because they agree with a collective’s morality, the law can be slow to reflect changes in social attitudes, thus they can not be severely enforced. The United Nations and its efforts are indicative of such a fact, with many instances seeing the free rein of non-compliant countries, groups, or individuals. As stated above, where someone has a right, someone else has a corresponding responsibility. Legal responsibilities are also called ‘obligations’ or ‘duties’ and can be derived from the same processes as legal rights. Examples of statutory obligations include a parents’ duty to send their children to school and for the state to ensure that every child has the best possible education. These duties are contained in the Education Act 1990 (NSW) and are based on the principle that every child has the right to an education. Other legal responsibilities are based on common law, such as the duty of care. As expressed in Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562, the duty of care is owed to all persons who are likely to be ‘closely and directly affected by one’s behavior.

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