Talking drugs, dance and human rights at the Global Meeting on Law and Society

GLaD project officer Sean Mulcahy recently presented a paper co-authored with project lead Kate Seear at the Global Meeting on Law and Society in Lisbon on the legislative human rights scrutiny process in some Australian jurisdictions. 

The Queensland Human Rights Commissioner, Scott McDougall, has raised concerns about the parliamentary human rights scrutiny process becoming a ‘perfunctory “tick and flick” exercise’ in which decision-makers perform the ‘dance steps to [rights] derogation’, a concern that has been emulated by others. Taking this notion of ‘tick and flick’ literally, the paper explored the usage of ticks and other formatting devices in parliamentary human rights scrutiny reports.

Drawing from Marie Jacob’s notion of calligraphic practices in legal documents and Jacob and Anna MacDonald’s notion of lines in legal documents as material, somatic and metaphorical forms, the paper analysed the choreology of calligraphic forms in these reports and what they say about how human rights are conceived of in parliamentary scrutiny processes. The paper argued that the forms themselves have bearing on the process of human rights scrutiny, and that forms shape substance of the reports.

The Global Meeting provided an opportunity for us to share these findings from our project on a ‘post-human rights’ framework for drug policy, and we will be developing the paper into an article drawing in feedback from the audience at the session and with thanks to a Visiting Research Fellowship at Warwick Law School. 

The Global Meeting hosted a series of other sessions including a roundtable on drug decriminalisation in Portugal. The Portuguese legal framework applicable to the consumption of narcotics and psychotropic substances followed the Portugal National Drug Strategy of 1999 and entered into force in 2001. It has as its aim the ‘medical and social welfare’ of people who use drugs and establishes Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction to enforce the law. In short, the legal framework prioritises a health-oriented approach over a criminal justice approach. Panellist Jorge Albino Quintas de Oliveira described these as ‘drug policies that have a social and human side.’ He reported that, since the introduction of the framework, there has been a moderate increase in police detection of presumed offenders, but it has not led to a significant increase in drug use.

Panellist Ximene Rego explained that the families of people who use drugs were involved in the development of the drug decriminalisation law and that one of the goals of the law was to meet human rights obligations. However, she argued that this was done in a very conservative way, with a focus on criminal justice and health-based rights, as opposed to a more radical conception of human rights for people who use drugs. You can read her recent article on Portuguese drug policy and human rights here.

Teresa Cecilia de Sousa Tavares da Silva from the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction in Porto commented that the Commissions recognise ‘the right of each person to choose self-injurious conduct without criminal penalty.’ She explained that approach is informed by constitutional law and principles, and that human rights are protected by the Commissions in three ways: confidentiality, consent and information. Furthermore, people who come before the Commissions are often referred to primary healthcare in order to guarantee their right to health. She concluded that there was a need for members of the Commissions to listen in order to create empathy towards people who use drugs.

Despite this progress, in 2008, the Portuguese Supreme Court re-established the crime of consumption, which was validated by the Constitutional Court in 2014. Portugal is also a signatory to the United Nations’ drug conventions on prohibition, such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This poses some challenges for adopting health-oriented and human rights-based approaches to drugs. There have, however, been no proposals to re-criminalise drug use in the country.

We look forward to sharing more findings from our project with you soon.