Alternative Law Journal
Bryan Horrigan; UNSW Press 2003; 376 pp; $33.95 softcover.
The first line of Chapter One of Adventures m Low and Justice: Exploring Big Legal Questions in Everyday Life asks (31) '[i]s it possible that everything you think about law might be wrong?' This confronting question sets the tone for an informative, lucid and stimulating book, which should be required reading for anyone interested in, let alone learning about, law.
The author, Bryan Horrigan, asks this question because 'Law is a lot less certain and objective than most people think, but it is also a lot less random and subjective than many critics suggest'.
And in telling us why it is worth learning more about law, Horrigan makes it fun for the reader by dealing with a wide range of well thought-out and expertly synthesised legal and theoretical material.
The chapter headings attest to the breadth of material in Adventures m Low and Justice: the Preface (you, me and law) is followed by Part One (our heritage), Part Two (our dilemmas) and Part Three (our futures). Within those Parts, the book is structured in highly accessible chapters: Part One contains (1) justice, society and us, (2) myths, fictions and realities, (3) truth, justice and the Australian way; Part Two contains (4) life, death, and humanity, (5) love, sex, and gender, (6) black, white, and shades of grey, (7) rights, wrongs, and relativities; and Part Three contains (8) democracy, freedoms, and terrorism, and (9) here, now, and beyond.
Within these densely packed chapters, Adventures m Low and Justice deals with a wide range of subject matter, much of which encapsulates, in the Australian context, the major contemporary challenges to our legal systems. Topics include euthanasia, stem-cell research, the human genome project and the legal response to terrorism. The book is straightforward in acknowledging the limitations of the law, confronting the inadequacies of Australian law's responses to native title, to IVF and to free speech.
The style of the book is an interesting mix of legal information and philosophical reflection on the links between law and justice. As Horrigan himself says, the book is wide-ranging and more about the 'ideas and ideals of law in our lives' (16) than about the 'nuts and bolts of making a will or getting a divorce.' It causes us to reflect on our understanding of law, it 'tells law's stories' and 'exposes law's myths'. It does explain many specifics of law's response to key issues, but makes those responses more widely comprehensible by evoking justice reflections from the reader. The material also becomes more accessible through the effective use of major cultural icons by way of explanation - books, films etc. For example, in explaining legal rules and the ways in which public discourse misconceives law and reinforces myths about it, the author suggests (36) that Isaac Asimov's famous 'Three Laws of Robotics' have the feel of legal rules:
• a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
• a robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
• a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
How does this look like a law? Because, like many legal rules, the robotics laws:
• have exceptions
• are laid down, just like legislation and precedent
• have an authoritative source, just like laws which originate from legislators and courts
• confer legal authority on some interests, as do all laws
• balance some interests against others, as do many laws
• apply without question if their conditions are satisfied even though they are open to interpretation, just like many laws
• embody particular values, as do all laws.
Similarly the legal philosophy of the movie Star Trek is called on to explain the ways in which law has to deal with competition between individual and collective interests, and the explanation of the Australian Constitution includes a reference to the 'most famous illustration of constitutional interpretation in contemporary Australian popular culture' (61): an argument promoting the 'vibe' of the Constitution; that articulated in the movie The Castle.
Each chapter is a dynamic and interesting mix of historical, cultural, geographical, political, social and economic material, which enlivens the discussion of the law.
So we also learn of the ways in which law develops, and of the importance of what has been before for what law becomes today. For example, citing the Carbolic Smoke Boll case, Horrigan observes: 'This is one amongst literally thousands of old and new contract cases whose lessons shape the laws, actions, and contractual conditions of commercial life today' (30). Justice related reflections clarify the ways in which law works, and help to' unveil the mysteries of the law. For example, commenting on the Chamberlain case, Horrigan observes: '...the Chamberlain case demonstrates that justice according · to law is not always the same thing as truth or justice in a wider sense' (45).
Adventures in Low and Justice is a useful reference for those interested in law and would be an excellent background reading reference for students of law and/or justice and criminology. And besides containing a wealth of information, the book also features an excellent cover picture of hands reaching out over water towards gavels and question marks. In conclusion, there is only one more thing to say about this book: I wish I was the BH who wrote it and congratulate the one who did!
BARBARA ANN HOCKING teaches in the School of justice Studies at QUT.