Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Tribute To Crown Prosecutor Jose Crespo

Court Wigs

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 18:14 :59 ): I speak tonight about one member of a group of unsung heroes in our community. I am referring to one of our dedicated State Crown prosecutors who, together with the NSW Police Force, keep Ku-ring-gai and the rest of our community safe from those who would break our criminal laws. Tonight I pay tribute to Crown Prosecutor Jose Crespo, who suddenly passed away last week. Those who loved Jose extend their sympathies to Jose's father, his two teenage sons, Liam and Zachary, and his former wife, Gretel, who survive him. I recall clearly Jose telling me some years ago how much he loved his sons and spending time with them.

I had the pleasure to first meet Jose when we were both 18 years old in our second week of university. In the years since then I have always known him to be a fun person to be around, with infectious and charismatic laughter and quick wit. Jose was the son of Spanish immigrants to Australia. He attended Catholic schools near Newtown, where he grew up. Jose's Higher School Certificate mark did not qualify him to enrol in a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws combined degree, but his dream was to do well enough in his arts degree to enter law, and ultimately practise as a criminal lawyer.

Through dedication and hard work he achieved those ambitions, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws combined degree from the University of Sydney, after which he was admitted as a solicitor. A short time later he began work as a criminal law solicitor at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP]. After many years as a successful solicitor with the DPP Jose became a barrister—six months before I was admitted to the bar. Jose read at Trust Chambers, where many excellent barristers were located, including its head of chambers, Dr Greg Woods, QC. Dr Woods later become a District Court judge.

Jose and I appeared together in my first case as a barrister. I had represented our client in a previous civil forgery case that had turned into a criminal prosecution. The committal hearing was set down for six weeks. Jose's expertise in criminal law and procedure was far greater than mine but together we were able to discredit the charges after only two weeks. The case was dismissed with a cost order awarded against the prosecutor.

It is rare to encounter someone with the skill and enthusiasm of Jose and I will always cherish fondly the memory of working closely with him and being victorious in that case. Jose's career at the private bar continued to progress. He moved to the third floor of Selborne Chambers where I joined him as a member of those chambers for a short time. By then Jose was establishing a good criminal practice, regularly winning many criminal jury trials, much to the disdain of the prosecution. I remember Jose telling me how he was slowly refining his forensic skills in front of juries which were designed to charm the jurors into liking him rather than despising his clients. Like Cleaver Green in the television show Rake, Jose could indeed be very charming.

At about this time Jose rose to an important leadership position, becoming president of the Spanish Club. He was widely admired by Sydney's Spanish community. I remember him telling me that he felt strange when old men in the club the age of his father would refer to him with respect as "Don Crespo". After a couple of years the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] must have decided that, in the public interest, they had to stem the impact of Jose's success and invited him to be a Crown prosecutor. Jose had told me earlier that he hoped that this would be the case, as the life of a defence barrister was quite insecure with regard to both work and remuneration.

Jose remained a Crown prosecutor until his death last week. He rose to be the head of the DPP's pre-trial unit. As a Crown prosecutor he was able to turn his hand to any type of prosecutorial work including robbery, child sexual assaults, historical child sexual assaults and drug matters. His major cases included a long-running fraud case and murder trials. One of his murder cases involved a member of the notorious Brothers 4 Life gang. He was known as a dedicated Crown prosecutor who prepared all his matters carefully and ran them with a great deal of energy, still showing the same desire and passion to practise criminal law that he told me about when he was 18 years of age. The DPP, Lloyd Babb, SC, described him as a great barrister, a respected Crown prosecutor and a truly lovely man. He was endlessly generous with his knowledge and he took his role as mentor and senior barrister seriously. Jose was a consummate professional and never said a harsh word about anyone. He was courteous and respectful. He never forgot his humble origins. Our State has lost a loyal and talented servant, who was also a good friend, colleague, father and son. Vale "Don" Jose Crespo. You will be greatly missed.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Ms Anna Watson ): Thank you. I am sure Jose's family will appreciate your words. It was a lovely tribute. He was obviously a very close friend. I am sure that every member of this House sends you their sympathies as well.