The Idea of Human Rights

12 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2014 Last revised: 19 Aug 2014

See all articles by James Allan

James Allan

The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law

Date Written: June 18, 2014


This paper considers what the notion or idea of 'human rights' best covers or encompasses. It gives some history and takes a position on this debate. It is a short paper with a clear point of view.

My brief for this piece was to write on human rights. That left two main options. I could undertake a fairly specific black letter critique of bills of rights. I am a strong opponent of these instruments, in either their entrenched, constitutionalised form or in their statutory, enacted form. The former you see in Canada and the United States of America; the latter you see in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and in Victoria. In my view both forms are pernicious; both forms undermine democratic decision-making; both forms unduly enhance the point-of-application power of unelected judges on a host of issues that are in effect moral and political ones – ones over which judges (committees of ex-lawyers as Jeremy Waldron continually reminds us) have no greater expertise, no superior moral perspicacity, no better pipeline to God than the rest of us non-judges, otherwise known as voters. I could go through the problems with bills of rights in some detail if I were to choose this option. I have written fairly extensively along these lines.

Keywords: human rights, Bentham, bills of rights, post world war II trends, American constitutionalism

Suggested Citation

Allan, James, The Idea of Human Rights (June 18, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

James Allan (Contact Author)

The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law ( email )

The University of Queensland
St Lucia
4072 Brisbane, Queensland 4072

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