The Quest for Justice

The Quest for Justice

Ken Crispin, Scribe

In its inaugural Assembly the Uniting Church pledged itself “to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur”.

Since 1977 many church members have been active advocates for justice. Less emphasis has been placed on encouraging church members to become the decision makers, who are often criticised as the source of injustices.

Consequently Ken Crispin’s The Quest for Justice is a book of great importance for all church folk who seek justice.

He has been an advocate in our adversarial system of criminal justice, both as defence counsel and as Director of Public Prosecutions in the Australian Capital Territory, an advocate for law reform as chair of the ACT Law Reform Commission, and a decision maker as a judge of the Supreme Court of the ACT and then as President of the ACT Court of Appeal.

To provide a sound theoretical basis for these activities he has a PhD in ethics and lists theology as one of his recreational interests.

After an introduction, the intellectual challenge of the book is expressed in five chapters, headed:

  • The Law: does it reflect our values?
  • Our System of Justice: is it just or just adversarial?
  • Sentencing: have we lost our way?
  • The war on drugs: are our strategies sound?
  • The War on Terror: or a surrender of rights?

The questions reflect concerns that people in the community express. Dr Crispin looks seriously at the issues that are raised by the concerns and offers his own responses.

He recognises that he is touching on only a small number of challenges to our ideas of justice that contemporary life presents. It is unlikely that any reader will agree with every opinion he expresses, but it is also unlikely that any reader will remain unchallenged by his skilful blend of scholarly wisdom and practical experience.

An example of his style can be taken from the discussion about law and morality: “While morality involves questions of how people should choose to behave, the law is concerned only with how people should be compelled to behave.”
Certainly not new ideas, but how clearly and succinctly they are expressed!

This ability makes this a very readable book. The many examples of the problems which decision makers face in responding to human behaviour give content to our quest for justice. The quest takes place among the varied and conflicting capacities and expectations human beings present.

For example, when we have asked the question, “Why do young people take illegal drugs?”, what do we do with the answer? Do needle exchange programs and self-injection centres have a place in our answer?

How should the criminal justice system respond to mental illness? This issue goes beyond the commission of serious criminal offences and into drug taking, homelessness and sociable interaction.

Are you comfortable with the way the War on Terror has been and is being waged? Is there in fact any war? Would a Bill of Rights make any difference when the USA, which has such a Bill in its Constitution, has been able to establish the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre?

These, and many other lively questions, confront us in our commitment to correcting injustices wherever they occur and Ken Crispin is a learned and respected companion on our quest.

The Hon. Alan Demack AO served as a judge for 28 years, including the District Court of Queensland, the Family Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Queensland. He was Queensland’s first Integrity Commissioner. He has been a Lay preacher for 51 years and a member of the Roman Catholic/Uniting Church National Dialogue since 1993.

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