Level 2 of the Law Courts Complex, George St, Brisbane, 8.30am to 5pm, from January 2 to March 15 2002.
For further enquiries please contact the Supreme Court Library 3247 4373
The following article appeared in The Courier Mail, 31 December 2001, p18
CIVIL rights … Henry Akers and Jaffa
protest in 1978.
IN 1978, Bundaberg dentist Henry Akers applied for a police permit to march down a no through road at 2.45am with his dog Jaffa. Akers also applied for a permit for a banner that read: "The majority is not omnipotent. The majority can be wrong and is capable of tyranny".
The applications were refused. A few months earlier Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen had decreed that the day of the political street march was over. Undeterred, one man and his dog undertook an illegal march in the early hours of April Fools' Day, watched by a carload of detectives.
The story of Akers and Jaffa is one of many on display at the Law Courts Complex Court in George St, Brisbane. This thought-provoking exhibition has been researched and developed by the Supreme Court Library. It traces the evolution of human rights over the centuries and features significant human rights events in Australian and Queensland history.
In the section on the genealogy of human rights you can learn about Benedict Spinoza, who, in the 17th century, addressed the issue of freedom of speech.
His message resonates with the stand taken by Akers some 300 years later: "The real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannise over."
It also includes a unique timeline of significant events in the development of human rights in Australia.
The exhibition should have a special appeal to students because of the range of its coverage and the visual appeal of its presentation. It conveys the message that people's civil rights have accompanying responsibilities.
The exhibition is part of a process encouraged by the Chief Justice of Queensland, Paul de Jersey, to transform the state's main courthouse into a place that is visited by members of the public, not just litigants and lawyers. On the same floor as the exhibition is a replica of the "gentlemen's smoking room" of the steam yacht Lucinda where Sir Samuel Griffith and others in Easter 1891 drafted substantial parts of the Commonwealth Constitution.
The focus of the exhibition is not on the past. It is on human rights issues that confront us in the 21st century. They involve topics such as genetic privacy, electronic surveillance and the response of liberal democracies to the terrorism of September 11.
Should insurance companies and employers have access to genetic data or be able to force individuals to disclose their genetic secrets? Can cloning and other forms of genetic manipulation be justified as an individual's right to reproduce in the way they choose?
Discussion about these issues should be informed by knowledge about the history of eugenics. The exhibition does that with words and images.
It shows that eugenic ideas were not limited to Nazis. In 1927, the US Supreme Court ordered the sterilisation of a 17-year-old girl with a family of "feeble-mindedness". Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
Modern genetic engineering, such as pre-natal testing and modification, may be a more benign form of eugenics. What role should government play in regulating parents' access to technology enabling them to select traits of their children?
These are the kinds of questions that the Human Rights in the 21st Century exhibition stimulate, testimony to the dedication of the Supreme Court librarian Aladin Rahemtula and his team of researchers Clare Eardley, Emmae Haerse, Nicola Petzl and Belinda Weir.
The display also links the story of human rights to music and literature. The music includes negro spirituals, works composed in Nazi prisoner of war camps, the freedom songs of the 1960s civil rights movement and works by U2.
Two featured books that epitomise the themes of the exhibition are Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell's 1949 masterpiece depicted a society of individuals under constant surveillance.
The exhibition tells us that the average person is filmed up to 20 times a day. New software enabled cameras to scan a US Superbowl and compare the faces in the crowd with a database of criminals.
Governments in liberal democracies will increasingly deploy technology to track the movement of users of mobile phones, to intercept private communications and to watch all of us in the search for suspected terrorists. Those arrested in the US face military tribunals, not courts.
The lasting achievement of the September 11 terrorists, courtesy of our own governments, may be to move us closer to the society depicted by Orwell and the system of justice favoured by the Taliban.
Such a move may enjoy majority support. But as the illegal placard of Henry Akers stated in 1978: "The majority can be wrong and is capable of tyranny".
Peter Applegarth SC is an executive member of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties.
© Supreme Court of Queensland Library, 2003.
Material may not be reproduced without the express permission of the Librarian.
For further information, please contact the Library on 07 3247 4373.