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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 13 June 18, 1968

Citizen's Role In Creating New Laws

page 2

Citizen's Role In Creating New Laws

"We must not regard the Declaration of Human Rights as a noble but distant ideal," said the Chief Justice Sir Richard Wild. "The duty of the citizen is to see that human rights are recognized in his own community."

Sir Richard was presenting the first address in a series of lectures on Human Rights organized by the Victoria University Law Faculty. The series commemorates International Human Rights Year marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948.

There will be two lectures, and according to the Dean of the Law faculty. Prof. I. H. Richardson it has been arranged for them to be published.

They will be used in the University as texts next year.

"Little writing on the subject has been published in New Zealand," he said.

Sir Richard Wild said in the lecture last week that the criminal law was the mechanics of human rights to most people.

"The principal function of the law is to protect the citizen, not only against the wrong-doer but against the state and again public authority.

"In 1961, we revised the Crimes Act for the first time since we had adopted a legal system from Britain 70 years ago. But we must keep an inquiring mind as to what other changes or new laws are required. 'Some people think we need new laws concerning homosexual acts between adult males and concerning therapeutic abortion. We cannot turn our backs on these questions."

Describing the role of the mass media as formers of public opinion. Sir Richard said: "The citizen himself must be alert and vigilant. The power of the press for good or ill does not wane.

"The impact and potential of television as it has developed in the recent past is almost awesome.

"Anyone who wants to do or say anything different can. through television, find his way to a bigger audience than ever before. With only one system, the weight of responsibility on those who arrange the presentation of the news and views is tremendous.

"I think we have made a good start in New Zealand. If there have been some signs of an unwillingness to offer sufficient scope for discussions of controversial questions, the citizen has the remedy in his own hands."

"The Bill of Rights in England, the Declaration of Independence in America, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man in France, all promulgated within a century, were attempts to define the rights of man against the state.

"These were great charters, but were conceived negatively. It was probably the establishment of the International Labour Office in 1919 that reflected the emerging international concern for human rights.

"It was Hitlers massive attack on human rights which showed that they should not end at national boundaries.

"No doubt the horror of the Nazi concentration camps gave weight to public opinion and to demands for some action."

Partly as a result of this pressure, the Declaration of Human Rights was passed unanimously by the General Assembly in 1948. It was the beginning of a "positive approach" to the question.

"It is not a legal charter or a treaty," he said. "What then is the legal significance of the Declaration?

"It was intended by the General Assembly only as a recommendation to member states. It has since been accepted by most countries in the world, and thus has a tremendous moral force."