Last updated 1 December 2020
Section 15 of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (Human Rights Act) recognises the equal dignity of every person and their right to equally enjoy their human rights and be protected by the law without discrimination.
This section contains standalone rights as well as additional protections for other Human Rights Act rights.
Subsection 15(1) provides that every person has the right to recognition as a person before the law. This right allows people to enjoy their legal rights, for example when entering contracts, commencing legal proceedings, defending themselves and being treated like a legal person when interacting with government departments and during the administration of law.
Subsection 15(2) provides that every person has the right to enjoy their human rights without discrimination. The right to recognition and equality before the law is not limited to discrimination where established as unlawful under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) (Anti-discrimination Act). Subsection 15(2) provides protection from discrimination as defined in the Anti-discrimination Act and in a more general sense. This right ensures that Human Rights Act rights are enjoyed equally by all people and without discrimination. For a detailed explanation what discrimination means under the Anti-discrimination Act see the Discrimination and Human Rights chapter.
Subsections 15(3) and 15(4) provide separate but overlapping rights, which act independently from the other rights in the Human Rights Act.
Subsection 15(3) contains the right to legal personality. This section has two elements. One, it says that every person is equal before the law. This is a procedural right, which means that when the law is being applied or enforced, it should not be done in a discriminatory or arbitrary way. It is directed towards the administration rather than the content of laws; and two, that every person is entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination. This protects the right of all people to be equally protected by the law from discrimination including laws that are discriminatory in nature.
Subsection 15(4) contains the right to equality. It says that every person is entitled to equal and effective protection against discrimination. This is a substantive right, which means that the content of laws should not be discriminatory, and they should protect people from discrimination.
Subsection 15(5) limits the right to recognition and equality before the law. It makes it clear that measures taken to assist or advance people or groups who are disadvantaged or vulnerable are not discriminatory. This means that, for example, a program that addresses disadvantage experienced by certain groups (e.g. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or people with disabilities) will not be considered discriminatory.
The right to recognition and equality before the law will be subject to the general limitation provision in s 13 of the Human Rights Act. This provides human rights may be subject under law to reasonable limits, which are justified in a free and democratic society. See ‘Human Rights may be Limited’ for further explanation.
The right to recognition and equality before the law in s 15 of the Human Rights Act may be engaged in the following circumstances:
- complaints against police about the use of excessive force during an arrest (e.g. where it is alleged the use of force was motivated by racial discrimination)
- discrimination complaints against a public entity (e.g. a complaint against local council for banning a rate payer who was diagnosed with disabilities from accessing any council premises after he made thousands of complaints about perceived safety and corruption issues)
- complaints in relation to the procedures followed in hearings, courts and tribunals by self-represented applicants including those with disabilities
- determination of hearing and detention proceedings for children charged with serious offences. Courts have also been required to apply the right during sentence hearings for children.
These examples have been adapted from Australian cases. They are provided by way of example only, and are not a substitute for legal advice.