Closing the injecting room would ‘breach human rights’

A visitor outside the North Richmond Community Centre, the location of the new injecting rooms. Photograph: Emma Bourke

By EMMA BOURKE

The State Opposition’s plan to close down the North Richmond injecting rooms could breach the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, a legal expert says.

Since opening in June, the Medically Supervised Injecting Room in North Richmond has safely responded to more than 130 potentially fatal overdoses, according to North Richmond Community Health.

Section 9 of the Victorian Charter provides that “every person has the right to life”, which includes a duty on the government to take steps to protect this right.

Associate Professor Kate Seear.

Monash Associate Professor Kate Seear, who is also academic director of the Springvale Monash Legal Service, said there was a legal argument that closing the injecting rooms, which provide a life-saving service, undermined drug users’ right to life. 

“The Canadian Insite case, which ruled in favour of supervised injecting rooms, supports this.”

Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokeswoman Laura Bajurny agreed with A/Prof Seear.

The Insite case found that not providing the injecting service was a violation of the right to “security of the person” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Ms Bajurny said.

The government had a duty of care to provide life-saving services to vulnerable populations, she said.

However, A/Prof Seear said the courts’ ability to address violations to the Victorian charter was more difficult than for courts in Canada. 

“Unlike Canada, the Victorian charter doesn’t offer a standalone source of action on human rights grounds. Charter arguments can only be raised as part of an existing case,” she said.

Despite these limitations, it was very important for the government to explain how they interpreted the right to life in the charter, and its connection with supervised injecting rooms, she said.

“This is a conversation which needs to happen, particularly in the light of increased drug overdoses.”

Victorian overdose deaths increased from 379 in 2009 to 477 in 2016, according to the Victorian Coroner’s submission to Victoria’s drug law reform inquiry. 

It was time for the Government to start engaging in these “bigger human rights questions”, A/Prof Sear said.