Sought-after legal expert recognised as ‘critic and conscience’ of society

7 July 2021

Grant and Marilyn Nelson, Siouxsie Wiles, Al Gillespie
Gama Foundation’s Grant and Marilyn Nelson, Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, Professor Alexander Gillespie at yesterday’s Critic and Conscience of Society Award presentation in Christchurch. Photo: Universities New Zealand

University of Waikato Law Professor Alexander Gillespie has been named the joint winner of this year’s Critic and Conscience of Society Award.

The Education Act 1989 requires universities to act as the critic and conscience of society. The Critic and Conscience of Society Award was established by the Gama Foundation to encourage academic staff at New Zealand universities to fulfil this role by providing the public with independent, expert commentary on issues affecting the New Zealand community and future generations.

Professor Gillespie has become a sought-after law and policy commentator on issues ranging from cannabis law reform and foreign policy to gun control and terrorism. He has also provided substantial public comment on New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, something he says he could never have envisaged doing before the pandemic struck.

“With an unprecedented raft of laws, regulations and policies placed upon New Zealand, my objective was to keep the law and policy at the forefront of the public mind, and explain why difficult decisions were justifiable.”

Professor Gillespie also makes considerable effort to act as critic and conscience in the foreign policy space, notably in explaining and analysing New Zealand’s relationship with China and place in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

Well-known across New Zealand’s major media outlets, most of the topics he engages with publicly in his capacity as Law Professor are those which stimulate national debate, and in some instances, like gun regulation, his engagement with decision-makers has helped effect change.

“This was something I was trying to bring to public attention before it became a large-scale public concern following the attack of 15 March 2019. I spoke out directly on mistakes made in failing to prevent this atrocity. I then spoke in support of the resulting firearms reform laws.”

Professor Gillespie is both humbled and honoured by the Critic and Conscience of Society Award, which includes $50,000 earmarked for progressing his research.

“As a scholar, I consider this one of the premier accolades that can be received, as it goes to the core of what all academics should strive to do.”

He shares the award, administered by Universities New Zealand, with University of Auckland microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

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