A man with a mission
My generation was the first generation to grow up with the welfare state. The welfare state was built by the so-called national strategists. They regarded disability retirement as a tool for doctors, not as a right for members of the national insurance scheme. For me, justice has always been an important principle, says Asbjørn Kjønstad. That is why he chose health and social legislation as his main field of work.
Asbjørn Kjønstad, Professor of Law at Oslo University, was awarded the Karl Evang Award for 2007 for his pioneer work in the field of social welfare legislation. In particular, the adjudicating committee took into account his work to ensure welfare and legal safeguards for the most vulnerable groups in society, and his work with tobacco legislation.
Professor Kjønstad has carried out important pioneer work with his research and investigations. For example, he has helped to develop competence and build up resources in the fields of legislation related to social security, health and welfare in Norwegian universities, colleges and public administration.
- The national strategists were entrepreneurs, but the idea that individuals had legal rights was totally absent. At the National Insurance Administration, where I worked around 1970, my bosses claimed that disability pension was not a legislative area. I met a lot of opposition about this, including from my teachers at the university. But it was a challenge, and it was exciting to go into a new area, says Professor Kjønstad.
His mission in life has been to argue that legislative philosophy, legal concepts and the securement of legal safeguards should be introduced in the area of the welfare state, as in other areas.
- It has been an honour to be involved in this work. It was essential to develop health and social legislation in the 1980s and 1990s in order to ensure that people were treated equally and received their legal rights. However, it now seems as though we have reached an optimal level. Further development of legislation can be counter-productive, believes Professor Kjønstad.
He points out that to an increasing degree attention has been directed at system errors when something goes wrong in the health services. This clearly has positive aspects, but we must not forget free will and personal responsibility, believes Professor Kjønstad.
Professor Kjønstad’s office in the old university building in Karl Johans Gate is as a professor’s office should be: many metres of books from floor to ceiling. His desk and table are also full. Just one corner of the table has been cleared to make space for guests and students. But it was not a foregone conclusion that the boy from Trondheim should end up here.
- Both my father and my grandfather were clever at writing, and functioned as legal practitioners. For example, they set up legal contracts. This may be what made me interested in law, says Professor Kjønstad.
Another interest he had when he was young was the war against tobacco.
- The war against tobacco has been like being on a roller coaster, said Professor Kjønstad two years ago when he was awarded a special prize on the World No Tobacco Day in 2005.
His interest in this area started in 1970, when, as a newly qualified lawyer, he was secretary of the Tobacco Act Committee, led by Professor Anders Bratholm. The Committee developed three major legal proposals: a total ban on advertising of tobacco products, compulsory marking of cigarette packets with a warning about the dangers to health of cigarette smoking, and a ban on selling tobacco products to children and young people. Professor Kjønstad also participated in the work with the report “Air is for Everyone! The Right to Breathe Smoke-free Air” in the mid 1980s. The aim was to introduce smoke-free workplaces and public places.
- The legal proposals received a lot of support from the people, but not from the media. Opposition came from the tobacco industry, celebrities and journalists. The reason why the arguments of a few celebrities received such a lot of attention was, of course, because of the celebrities’ alliances with the journalists. Newspaper offices and the offices of the Norwegian Broadcasting Company were some of the places where smoking was most common. Journalists and editors ruthlessly used their power over the printed word and the ether to promote their own interests, says Professor Kjønstad.
We know what happened. Today, restaurants and cafés are smoke-free, and smokers are banished to chilly street corners.
- I once proposed a ban on smoking in children’s bedrooms at home. This created an outcry, and I was accused of being a moralist. I now see that the Ombudsman for Children has come with the same proposal, Professor Kjønstad reminds us, and continues:
- I was opposed to smoking. And as a member of the Committee Against Child Abuse in 1983, I was also against hitting children. One would have thought that this was a winning issue, but there was a lot of opposition. However, later, everyone agreed.
But, as he says himself: On the day of victory, who counts the number of battles lost?
“Asbjørn Kjønstad, Professor of Law at Oslo University, was awarded the Karl Evang Award for 2007 for his pioneer work in the field of social welfare legislation. In particular, the adjudicating committee took into account his work to ensure welfare and legal safeguards for the most vulnerable groups in society, and his work with tobacco legislation.”
“On the day of victory, who counts the number of battles lost?”