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FOREIGN FADS OR FASHIONS? THE ROLE OF COMPARATIVISM IN HUMAN RIGHTS LAW

  • Sandra Fredman (a1)

Abstract

Although there is a broadly similar core of human rights law and courts in different jurisdictions face strikingly similar questions, the use of comparative law in the human rights context remains controversial. Reference to foreign human rights materials is regarded as undemocratic, selective and misleading. Rather than searching for a single ‘right answer’, or expecting convergence, this article addresses these challenges from a deliberative perspective. A deliberative approach requires decisions to be taken on the basis of reasons which are thorough and persuasive. Even where outcomes diverge, there need to be good reasons, whether textual, institutional, or cultural. Comparative materials constitute an important contribution to this process. Part I critically assesses various alternative potential functions of comparative law. Part II develops the deliberative model while Part III addresses the main critiques of comparative law. Part IV tests the deliberative approach against a selection of cases dealing with two particularly challenging issues confronted by courts in different jurisdictions, namely the use of substantive principles such as dignity, and the application of justification or limitation clauses in the context of prisoners' right to vote. Case law is drawn from countries which already cite each other and which have broadly similar institutional frameworks: the USA, Canada, South Africa, India, Australia, the UK, New Zealand and the European Court of Human Rights to the extent that it too considers comparative law.

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1 Lawrence v Texas (2003) 123 SCt 2472 (US Supreme Court).

2 Bowers v Hardwick (1986) 478 US 186 (US Supreme Court).

3 Roper v Simmons (2005) 543 US 551 (US Supreme Court) 627 (Scalia J).

4 Suresh Kumar Koushal v Naz Foundation (2014) 1 SCC 1 (Indian Supreme Court).

5 ibid [52].

6 NALSA v Union of India (Writ Petition 604 of 2013) (April 2014) (Indian Supreme Court).

7 Waldron, J, Partly Laws Common to Mankind: Foreign Law in American Courts (Yale University Press 2012).

8 Montesquieu for example argued that laws ‘should be adapted in such a manner to the people for whom they are framed, that it is a great chance if those of one nation suit another’. CdS Montesquieu, Baron de, The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu , vol. 1 (The Spirit of Laws) [1748] (T Evans 1777) 5 at <http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/837>.

9 Cram, I, ‘Resort to Foreign Constitutional Norms in Domestic Human Rights Jurisprudence with Reference to Terrorism Cases’ (2009) 68 CLJ 118, 140.

10 Hoffman, L, ‘Human Rights and the House of Lords’ (1999) 62 MLR 159, 165.

11 See more generally Mak, E, Judicial Decision-Making in a Globalised World (Hart 2013); ibid 4; for New Zealand see Allan, J, Huscroft, G and Lynch, N, ‘The Citation of Overseas Authority in Rights Litigation in New Zealand: How Much Bark? How Much Bite?’ (2007) 11 OtagoLRev 433.

12 Kahn-Freund, O, ‘The Uses and Misuses of Comparative Law’ (1973) 37 MLR 1; Barak, A, ‘Response to ‘‘The Judge as Comparatist’’: Comparison in Public Law’ (2005) 80 TulLRev 195; Davis, D, ‘Constitutional Borrowing: The Influence of Legal Culture and History in the Reconstitution of Comparative Influence: The South African Experience’ (2003) 1 ICON 181; Waldron (n 7); McCrudden, C, ‘Common Law of Human Rights? Transnational Judicial Conversations on Constitutional Rights’ (2000) 20 OJLS 499; Slaughter, A, ‘A Typology of Transjudicial Communication’ (1994) 29 URichLRev 99; Posner, R, How Judges Think (Harvard University Press 2008) ch 8; Hirschl, R, Comparative Matters: The Renaissance of Comparative Constitutional Law (OUP 2014); Tushnet, M, Advanced Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar Publishing 2014).

13 Cram (n 9); Allan, Huscroft and Lynch (n 11).

14 Bernstein v Bester (1996) 2 SALR 751 (South African Constitutional Court).

15 ibid.

16 Cram (n 9) 140.

17 Thus Montesquieu himself, having pointed out the specificity of laws to their own nations, went on to create a work in comparative public law which is, in Hirschl's words: ‘indisputably a – if not the – defining moment in the history of comparative public law’. Hirschl (n 12) 127. Although many criticisms can be made of Montesquieu's methodology (ibid), he drew extensively on comparative legal research in both a descriptive and a normative sense, primarily to support his taxonomy of laws, but also to measure those laws against some of his background normative principles, such as the separation of powers.

18 McCrudden, ‘Transnational Judicial Conversations’ (n 12).

19 Posner, R, ‘The Supreme Court 2004 Foreword: A Political Court’ (2005) 119 HarvLRev 32, 85.

20 ibid 86–7. McCrudden, ‘Transnational Judicial Conversations (n 12); Slaughter (n 12).

21 Posner, ‘A Political Court’ (n 19).

22 Waldron (n 7) 41.

23 Slaughter (n 12) 121–2.

24 Posner, ‘A Political Court’ (n 19) 85.

25 McCrudden (n 12) 528.

26 Slaughter (n 12) 121–2.

27 See further Fredman, S, Human Rights Transformed: Positive Rights and Positive Duties (OUP 2008) 93.

28 Davis (n 12) 191. See further Law, D and Versteeg, M, ‘The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution’ (2012) 87 NYULRev 762.

29 Choudhry, S, ‘The Lochner era and comparative constituitonalism’ 2 (2004) 2 ICON 1, 1.

30 Lochner v New York 198 US 45, 25 SCt 539 (United States Supreme Court).

31 Section 7 of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Sch B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 (Canadian Charter) reads: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’

32 Canadian Charter, section 33; Choudhry (n 29).

33 Canadian Charter, section 1; see similarly European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) 213 UNTS 222, entered into force 3 Sept, 1953, art 10(2).

34 R v Keegstra [1990] 3 SCR 697 (Supreme Court of Canada).

35 ibid 743.

36 Mendes, C, ‘A Global Constitution of Rights: The Ethics, the Mechanics and the Geopolitics of Comparative Constitutional Law’ in Baxi, U, Viljoen, F and Velhena, O (eds), Transformative Constitutionalism: Comparing the Apex Courts of Brazil, India and South Africa (Pretoria University Press 2014) 55.

37 Barak (n 12).

38 Mance, L, ‘Foreign Laws and Languages’ in Burrows, A, Johnston, D and Zimmermann, R (eds), Judge and Jurist: Essays in Memory of Lord Rodgers of Horsferry (OUP 2013).

39 Kahn-Freund (n 12).

40 See NALSA (n 6) [95].

41 Waldron (n 7) 3. He uses the term ‘partly common to all mankind’.

42 ibid.

43 Waldron (n 7) 3.

44 ibid 5.

45 ibid 20.

46 ibid 35.

47 ibid 41.

48 ibid 51.

49 ibid 48.

50 ibid 54.

51 ibid 55.

52 Barak (n 12) 195.

53 Koskenniemi, M, ‘The Fate of Public International Law: Between Technique and Politics’ (2007) 70 MLR 1.

54 Waldron (n 7) 61.

55 ibid 62. For a discussion of comparative law as persuasive authority see McCrudden, ‘Transnational Judicial Conversations’ (n 12).

56 On deliberative approaches see Cohen, J, ‘Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy’ in Hamlin, A and Pettit, P (eds), The Good Polity (Oxford 1989); Fredman, S, ‘From Dialogue to Deliberation: Human Rights Adjudication and Prisoners’ Right to Vote’ (2013) PL 292.

57 Waldron (n 7) 89, 199.

58 Barak (n 12) 195.

59 Koskenniemi (n 53) 30.

60 Waldron (n 7) 80.

61 A major exception is EU law, which is binding on all Member States.

62 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, section 39.

63 Human Rights Act 1998, (UK) section 3. This point is discussed further below.

64 Dworkin, R, Taking Rights Seriously (Duckworth 1977) 40; see also Alexy, R, A Theory of Constitutional Rights (OUP 2004).

65 Waldron (n 7) 64.

66 Mak (n 11) 4.

67 McCrudden, ‘Transnational Judicial Conversation’ (n 12) 517.

68 ibid.

69 Lawrence v State [1997] ZACC 11 (South African Constitutional Court) citing the earlier case of Prinsloo v Van der Linde [1997] (6) BCLR 759 (South African Constitutional Court).

70 S v Mamabolo (CCT 44/00) [2001] ZACC 17 (South African Constitutional Court) [41]–[42].

71 Keegstra (n 34) 754.

72 ibid 838.

73 Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v Whatcott, 2013 SCC 11 (Supreme Court of Canada).

74 R v Hanson [2007] NZLR 7 (Supreme Court of New Zealand).

75 Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

76 Hanson (n 74) [12]. Section 6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that where an enactment can be given a meaning consistent with the rights and freedoms in the Bill of Rights, that meaning should be preferred.

77 ibid [19]. Such assistance was also envisaged in the White Paper and law reform report which preceded the Act.

78 R v Oakes, [1986] 1 SCR 103 [28] (Supreme Court of Canada).

79 Hanson (n 74) [23]. This approach had also been adopted in South Africa, where the Constitution contained a limitation clause similar to that in New Zealand.

80 Koushal v Naz Foundation (n 4) (Indian Supreme Court).

81 Jagmohan Singh v State of U.P. (1973) 1 SCC 20 (Indian Supreme Court). For the same dictum, see also Bachan Singh v State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898 (Indian Supreme Court).

82 Surendra Pal v Saraswati Arora 1974 AIR 1999 (Indian Supreme Court).

83 M Kirby, ‘Sodomy Revived: The Supreme Court of India Reverses Naz’ (Oxford Human Rights Hub Seminar, Oxford, 22 April 2014) at <http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/the-hon-michael-kirby-sodomy-revived-the-supreme-court-of-india-reverses-naz/>.

84 HRA, 1998 (UK), section 2(1).

85 Secretary of State for the Home Department v AF (No 3) [2009] UKHL 28 (UK Supreme Court).

86 Regina (Ullah) v Special Adjudicator Do v Immigration Appeal Tribunal [2004] UKHL 26 (UK House of Lords).

87 R v Horncastle [2010] 2 AC 373 (UK Supreme Court).

88 ibid [11].

89 ibid.

90 Al-Khawaja v United Kingdom (2012) 54 EHRR 23 (ECtHR).

91 Bratza, N, ‘The Relationship between the UK Courts and Strasbourg’ [2011] EHRLR 505, 512.

92 McCrudden, ‘Transnational Judicial Conversations’ (n 12) 515.

93 Summers, RS, ‘Two Types of Substantive Reasons: The Core of a Theory of Common-Law Justification’ (1978) 63 CornellLRev 707, 716.

94 ibid 731.

95 ibid 716, 732.

96 ibid 739. He argues in relation to the common law that ‘a judge in our system must give substantive reasons and must make law. Indeed, the most important attributes of a judge are his value system and his capacity for evaluative judgment. Only through the mediating phenomena of reasons, especially substantive reasons, can a judge articulately bring his values to bear (ibid 710).

97 Freund, P, ‘Social Justice and the Law’ in Brandt, R (ed), Social Justice (Prentice Hall 1962) 93, 110.

98 Summers (n 93) 722.

99 ibid 726.

100 S v Makwanyane 1995 (3) SA 391 (South African Constitutional Court).

101 Furman v Georgia (1972) 408 US 238 (US Supreme Court).

102 Gregg v Georgia (1976) 428 US 153 (US Supreme Court).

103 Bachan Singh (n 81).

104 L Hoffmann, ‘Fairchild and After’ in Burrows, Johnston and Zimmermann (n 38) 64.

105 Cram (n 9).

106 Posner, ‘A Political Court’ (n 19) 85.

107 ibid 90.

108 Cram (n 9) 141.

109 Roper v Simmons (n 3) 578.

110 Waldron (n 7) 150 citing Roberts CJ at his confirmation hearings.

111 Roper v Simmons (n 3) (Kennedy J).

112 Lawrence (n 69) 141–142.

113 Cram (n 9) 140.

114 See further S Fredman ‘Living Trees or Dead-Wood’ in N Barber et al. (eds), Essays for Lord Sumption (forthcoming).

115 Marbury v Madison 5 (US) (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) (US Supreme Court).

116 ibid 178–179: Noting that in the Constitution ‘the powers of the legislature are defined and limited’, the court asked: ‘To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?’ The logical answer to this, in the Court's view, was that the Constitution would be worthless if its limits could be surpassed by legislative action.

117 Dyzenhaus, D, ‘The Politics of Deference: Judicial Review and Democracy’ in Taggart, M (ed), The Province of Administrative Law (Oxford 1997) 305.

118 Bowers v Hardwick (n 2).

119 Dudgeon v UK [1982] 4 EHRR 149 (ECtHR).

120 Lawrence v Texas (n 1).

121 ibid.

122 ibid 576. The risk of misunderstanding is enhanced when courts use social science evidence rather than legal materials: see Chaouilli v Quebec (Attorney General) (2005) SCC 35 (Supreme Court of Canada).

123 For analyses of the concept of dignity in human rights, see McCrudden, C, ‘Human Dignity and Judicial Interpretation of Human Rights2008 EJIL 655; Kretzmer, D and Klein, E (eds), The Concept of Human Dignity in Human Rights Discourse (Kluwer 2002); Feldman, D, ‘Human Dignity as a Legal Value’ [1999] PL 682.

124 August v Electoral Commission (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3 (South African Constitutional Court). See also Haig v Canada [1993] 105 DLR 4th 577, 613 (Supreme Court of Canada).

125 Sauvé v Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) [2002] 3 SCR 519 (Supreme Court of Canada).

126 Egan v Canada [1995] 2 SCR 513 (Canadian Supreme Court).

127 Prinsloo (n 69).

128 Vriend v Alberta [1998] 1 SCR 493 (Supreme Court of Canada).

129 ibid citing in National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice 1998 (12) BCLR 1517 (South African Constitutional Court).

130 R v Kapp 2008 SCC 41 (Supreme Court of Canada).

131 Ackermann, L, Human Dignity: Lodestar for Equality in South Africa (Juta & Company, 2012); McConnachie, C, ‘Human Dignity, ‘‘Unfair Discrimination’’ and Guidance’ (2014) 34(3) OJLS 609.

132 Furman v Georgia (n 101) 270.

133 Gregg v Georgia (n 102) 173.

134 Roper v Simmons (n 3).

135 ibid 560.

136 ibid.

137 ibid 604.

138 ibid.

139 S v Makwanyane referring to [1977] 45 BVerfGE 187, 228 (Life Imprisonment case) (German Constitutional Court); Kindler v Canada (1992) 6 CRR (2d) 193 (Supreme Court of Canada).

140 Naz Foundation v Government of Delhi Case WP(C) 7455/2001 (High Court of Delhi).

141 Prinsloo (n 69) [152].

142 Egan v Canada (n 126).

143 Citing extensively from National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice (n 1129); Vriend v Alberta (n 128) Dudgeon v UK (n 119); Romer v Evans (1996) 517 US 620, 634 (US Supreme Court); Lawrence v Texas (n 1); Norris v Ireland (1991) 13 EHRR 389 (ECtHR).

144 Naz Foundation (n 140) [52] (Delhi High Court).

145 Bachan Singh (n 81). The Court noted in any event that the International Covenant did not wholly outlaw capital punishment for murder.

146 ibid [136].

147 Koushal v Naz Foundation (n 4) (Indian Supreme Court).

148 Corbett v Corbett [1970] 2 WLR 1306 (High Court).

149 NALSA (n 6) [43].

150 Goodwin v UK (2002) 35 EHRR 18 (ECtHR) cited in NALSA (n 6) [33].

151 NALSA (n 6) [68].

152 Allan, Huscroft and Lynch (n 11).

153 ibid 441.

154 Sauvé v Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) (n 125).

155 Minister of Home Affairs v National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Re-Integration of Offenders (NICRO) Case CCT 03/04 [2004] ZACC 10 (South African Constitutional Court).

156 ibid.

157 Cited in Hirst v United Kingdom (No 2) (2006) 42 EHRR 41 (ECtHR Grand Chamber).

158 Cited in ibid [46].

159 ibid.

160 ibid.

161 ibid.

162 ibid.

163 Scoppola v Italy (No 3) [2013] 56 EHRR 19 (Grand Chamber ECtHR).

164 Sauvé v Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) (n 125); August v Electoral Commission (n 124); Minister of Home Affairs v National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Re-Integration of Offenders (NICRO) (n 155); Roach v Electoral Commissioner [2007] HCA 43 (High Court of Australia).

165 Yevdokimov and Rezanov v Russian Federation CCPR/C/D/1410/2005 (March 2011) (Human Rights Committee).

166 Roach v Electoral Commissioner (n 164).

167 The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) section 93(8AA) (Australia). The total ban had been introduced in 2006; previously it only applied to prisoners serving sentences of three years or more. The prohibition had been in place since 1902, but the minimum sentence had fluctuated over the years between one year and five.

168 Roach v Electoral Commissioner (n 164).

169 Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) (n 125).

170 Roach v Electoral Commissioner (n 164).

171 Scoppola v Italy (No 3) (n 163).

172 O'Brien v Skinner (1973) 414 US 524 (1973) (US Supreme Court).

173 Richardson v Ramirez (1974) 418 US 24, 55 (US Supreme Court).

174 ibid. See further Romer v Evans (n 143) The Court describe principles that States may disenfranchise a convicted felon as ‘unexceptionable’.

175 In Simmons v Galvin 130 SCt 2428 (2010) (US Supreme Court) The Supreme Court ordered the Solicitor General to ‘express the views of the United States’ on whether laws that take away the right to vote from people in prison or on parole can be challenged under the Voting Rights Act as racially discriminatory.

176 Or indeed allowing academic commentators to accept or reject outcomes on the basis of such preconceptions.

177 Bernstein v Bester (n 14).

I am grateful to Meghan Campbell, Laura Hilly, Karl Laird, Fiona de Londras and Jaakko Kuosmanen for their very helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper; and to Professor Christopher McCrudden for the many insights into comparative human rights law which he shared with me over the years. Many thanks to Meghan Campbell for her research assistance.

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