Societal Perspectives in Competing Rights Policy: Law Reform Agencies and Consulting with Communities

AuthorPatricia Hughes
Chapter 5
Societal Perspectives in Competing Rights
Policy: Law Reform Agencies and
Consulting with Communities
Patricia Hughes*
A. Introduction
Rights are not only legal entities. Although rights may be abstract
on paper, rights claims embody deeply held views about one’s
   
to a challenge to one’s self-identity or because one perceives
one’s status, social or economic, to be threatened. This subtext
underlying rights and rights claims means that unless we hear
          
effective and responsive ways to resolve tensions between or
among rights. Those who experience a denial of their rights have
a unique perspective on why that is the case and what needs to
be done to remedy the situation. These views may not determine
the outcome, but they are crucial to it. Yet, their claims often
affect the rights — or interests — of others and the remedy they
seek will sometimes curtail — or appear to curtail — these latter
rights or interests.1 Any determination of rights claims must
* The views expressed in this paper are those of the author alone and
should not be read to represent the views of the LCO or of anyone as-
sociated with the LCO other than the author.
1 I use the term “interests,” as well as “rights,” for two reasons. The term
“rights” denotes an interest that has acquired legal sanction, while other
The use of the term “rights” has both positive and negative connota-
tions: it is important, for example, to say “people have the right to be
Patricia Hughes
This paper is about the value of including communities in the
process of developing policy relating to rights, and about how
agencies that develop policy discover societal perspectives. In
developing policy the inclusion of “rights claimants” (or “societal
perspectives”) is less structured than in a legal proceeding, for
example, and may occur because of political expectations or eth-
ical mores rather than a legal requirement and may not follow a
pre-determined pattern or set of rules. These perspectives are
gathered through consultations with relevant community groups.
While the development of policy usually includes consulta-
tions with a range of different “stakeholders,” I am limiting my
consideration here to community-based groups. For my purposes,
I assume that the views of, for example, banking or industrial
interests, or similar well-established stakeholders relevant to the
development of a particular policy, will be taken into account and
that these interests will have a more or less direct or indirect
     
the way in which agencies developing policy about rights ascer-
tain the perspectives of community-based groups.
Community consultation is no longer the uni-dimensional ac-
tivity it once was, at least in certain contexts, when academics
and other researchers met with those they had decided to study.
Now there are various degrees of “inclusion,” “involvement,”
or “participation” by community members or so-called “stake-
        
community members or stakeholders expect. Consultation with
community-based groups has been the subject of new research
approaches developed over the past two decades in social re-
search conducted by academics and research agencies. Inclusion
treated with respect, to be secure, to have religious and expressive free-
dom and to receive equal (not necessarily the same) treatment,” yet the
concept of “rights” has also acquired an adversarial tone that results in
pitching rights against each other, thus the phrase “competing rights.”

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