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The Role of the Judge in Advancing Human Rights - Knight Errant or Slot Machine Automation?

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image of Nordic Journal of International Law

In this paper, the author deals with the "role" of judges in "advancing" human rights. He cautions that the needs of different countries will vary. He starts with a reference to the recent failure of Judge Robert Bork to secure confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. Bork had been a long time proponent of judicial restraint in the interpretation of the Bill of Rights, urging that protection of human rights should normally be left to the democratically accountable branches of government - the executive and the legislature. After reviewing the theoretical and practical arguments for and against judicial restraint, the author states his own conclusions. These are that, especially where there is a constitutional charter of rights and particularly in common law countries, judges have an inescapable function in developing the law. Their decisions necessarily advance their view of human rights. In human rights cases, they may nowadays receive assistance from international statements of human rights and the jurisprudence developing around such statements. The author appeals for an international approach but acknowledges that this will be difficult for lawyers, traditionally jurisdiction bound. But he warns that there are limits to the activism of the judiciary in controversial human rights cases. Judges themselves do well to recognise these limits both for their legitimacy and their effectiveness. An important modern challenge to the judiciary is that of resolving this dilemma between the pressures for restraint and the urgency of action.


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