Consequentialism is essentially a normative ethical theory which establishes that the consequences of a conduct are the predominant basis that would determine the judgment in terms of the rightness of the wrongness. The outcome of an act is emphasised as opposed to the act itself, and this is the most fundamental idea associated with the principle of consequentialism (Card & Smith, 2020). Consequentialism behaviour is also considered as non prescriptive, whereby the moral worth of the action relies on the resultant outcome. In terms of the influential philosophers, T.M. Scanlon is widely attributed to have developed the principles of consequentialism and advanced the idea of justifying human rights. Roberrt Nozick and Derek Parfit are also other important consequentialist philosophers that propagated the principle as a means to restrict actions (Russell, 2016).
Considering that the old man was apprehended, the theory of deontology would have been applied. Based on the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service, integrity and impartiality are the key principles that all the officials are required to abide by and maintain. Although the old man was terminally ill, it would only be right to apprehend the individual since the law states that marijuana is a ‘dangerous drug’ and anyone smoking it would be engaging in a criminal offence.
Considering that the old man was not apprehended, the theory of consequentialism would be applied, where the outcome of smoking the marijuana joint would be prioritized as opposed to the legal statute that criminalises the possession or consumption of marijuana. The old man was not harming anyone and was terminally ill, as a result of which it would not be appropriate to apprehend him simply because the requires so.
The SELF test as prescribed by the Queensland Police Service is the cornerstone of ethical decision making within the force and must be maintained by officials when engaging with their professional obligations. SELF is essentially an acronym for scrutiny, ensuring compliance, lawfulness and fairness. It puts forward four questions that officials should focus on when making a decision based on ethics.
Considering the man was not apprehended, it would certainly be in violation of the SELF Test and the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service.
The first question that is included within the SELF tests is whether the decision would withstand scrutiny from the community and the Queensland Police Service. The answer is certainly no, as marijuana and its possession and consumption is a criminal offence within the region and the decision to not apprehend the man would certainly not include any merit in the context of an official scrutiny.
The second question asks whether the decision would ensure compliance with the standards and policies as enforced by the government within the territories of Queensland. The answer would again be a negative, as Section 9 of the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (Qld) enforces that possession of marijuana is a serious offence involving punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment. Moreover, the elderly man did not have any permission to use the cannabis for medical purposes, which warrants the apprehension in accordance to the obligations of officials serving the Queensland Police Service (Queensland Police Service, 2019).
The third question is along the lines of whether the decision would be lawful, and the answer would again be a negative. While terminally ill patients are allowed to use cannabis based on official certification in the region of Queensland, the elderly man did not have an authorized license. Naturally, the possession and consumption of marijuana would be considered a criminal offence and the Code of Conduct would require the man’s apprehension in an immediate manner.
The final question within the SELF test relates to whether the decision would be fair, and this would certainly be an area of debate (Queensland Police Service, 2019). While the age of the old man and his terminal illness could hint that the decision to apprehend him would be unfair, discrimination and partiality are fundamental prohibitions in any legal system including that of Queensland. While moral correctness could be debated, the decision to apprehend the man would be fair in accordance to the provisions and the laws enforced within Queensland.
Since the failure to apprehend the man would be considered as a contravention of the Code of Conduct, disciplinary processes could be initiated along with potential suspension or relaxation from the duty. In terms of the reflection of the incident on the Queensland Police Service, it would certainly not go down well with either the senior officials or the community members. It would paint the QPS in a bad picture and would certainly bring shame to all the officials involved with the agency.
Considering the alternative actions, the elderly man could be taken to a medical professional to check whether medical cannabis would be appropriate for his illnesses. It would set a good example of ethical conduct and appropriate behaviour where both the legislative standards as well as the virtues of fairness and moral correctness are upheld in a simultaneous manner.
The Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 (Qld) puts forward 4 ethical principles for public officials mentioned in Part 2 of the statute. These include respect for the law and the system of government, respect for person, integrity and diligence and economy and efficiency.
Section 7.(1) of Division 2 of the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 (Qld) speaks about how public officials serving the region of Queensland must always uphold the laws of the State and the Commonwealth along with carrying out the decisions and policies in a faithful manner. However, it would not deter the individual from acting independently if is manifests as a customary feature of the official’s work.
Section 8.(1) mentions that a public official should always treat the members of the public and other public officials in an honest and fair manner while maintaining proper respect for their rights and obligations. Responsiveness is also warranted in terms of the officials performing their duties.
Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 Section 9.(1) states that public officials should always maintain integrity and enhance the confidence of the public in the integrity of the public administration service. The common good of the community must always be advanced at all times as well. Section 9.(2) also mentions that the powers vested in the public officials should be used for proper purposes and public interest must always supersede personal interests. Section 10 mentions that public officials should exercise proper diligence and seeks to achieve the highest standards of public administration at all times.
Lastly, Section 11 speaks about economy and efficiency, where public officials should ensure that public resources are not wasted or abused.
The nature and purpose of the ethical principles is mentioned within Division 1 in Part 3 of the statute. Section 5.(1) mentions that the principle apply to all public officials, while 5.(2) mention that the obligations mentioned in Division 2 comprise of the ethical obligations. Furthermore, Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 Section 5.(3) mentions that the ethical obligations and principles are intended to develop a basis for public codes of conduct for the officials and do not entail legal enforceability.
The principles are important to public officials as they represent the government and must ensure that the representation is done in a fair and correct manner. Considering the unique nature of the role of a public official in terms of being vested with additional powers and authorities as compared to a regular citizen, it is crucial that the officials maintain these principles and apply their rational discretion when undertaking their occupational obligations.
Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 (Qld), reprint 3, Queensland
Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (Qld), Queensland
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 1996, Indigenous Deaths in Custody 1989-1996, viewed 15 March 2017, http://www.hreoc.gov.au/social_justice/publications/deaths_custody/index.html
Queensland Police Service, 2019, Standard of Professional Practice, viewed 20 May 2020, https://www.ccc.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/Docs/Public-Hearings/Impala/Exhibits/Operation-Impala-Exhibit-116-Queensland-Police-Service-Standard-of-Professional-Practice-Final-Draft-22-October-2019.PDF
Card, D, & Smith, N, A, 2020, On Consequentialism and Fairness. arXiv preprint arXiv:2001.00329. pp. 12-20, viewed 20 March 2017, https://arxiv.org/pdf/2001.00329
Russell, B, 2016, Contractualism, Consequentialism and the Moral Landscape: A New Pro-Contractualist Picture of Ethical Theory, pp. 19-26, viewed 20 March 2017.
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