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Speech by the Rt. Hon. Sir Rabinder Singh: What is a “democratic society”?

|Speeches|Sir Rabinder Singh
  1. Mesdames et messieurs. Bonsoir et merci beaucoup. C’est un grand plaisir à donner cette conférence en honneur de François Chevrette et Herbert Marx. Ils étaient tous les deux savants distingués. Malheureusement je ne parle pas bien français, et donc je vais donner ma conférence en anglais.
  2. Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in “a free and democratic society”. The European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), many of whose rights have been given effect in domestic law in the United Kingdom (“UK”) by the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”), does not have a similar general limitation provision like section 1 of the Canadian Charter. However, most of the rights set out in the ECHR can in principle be limited. The only one which is truly absolute is the prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in Article 3.
  3. A good example of a limited right in the ECHR can be seen in Article 10, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and provides that limitations can be placed on that right where this is prescribed by law (again echoing – or perhaps anticipating – the language of section 1 of the Charter) and is “necessary in a democratic society” to achieve one or more of the express aims set out in it, for example the protection of the rights of others. Both the Canadian Charter and the ECHR make reference therefore to the concept of “a democratic society”. The question which I want to try to address in my lecture is: what is a democratic society for this purpose?

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