Many people wrongly believe that legal systems are fair. They do not understand the concept of justice. What they do understand is that some people get more, or worse, than others. That is why some people win arguments, while others lose them. This may sound fair in a courtroom, but it is an unequal justice system that treats some people more severely than others.
The starting point of justice is not subjective; it is objective. The word “justice” is rooted in the Greek word Aegeus, meaning “one who is just.” In other words, the idea of justice is to treat all persons equitably, fairly, and justly. The ethical philosophy that we subscribe today is to the effect that law is to prevent and redress just wrongdoings, and to ensure that justice, as equal and opposite to injustice, never remains a fetter on justice.
Justice – in the common sense – is something that everyone enjoys. Justice is something that we are all entitled to. We cannot be deprived of justice simply because we are different. Therefore, there is no such thing as justice – a word that connotes partiality and social status.
The concept of justice – which was a long cherished tradition in classical Greece – was a highly valued idea that was considered sacred in ancient Athens. Ancient Athens had the reputation of being the city that gave birth to justice – the concept that an individual’s life should be free from unjust or unfair treatment. In fact, many of the Greek philosophies of law were based on Greek ideal of justice – things like personal merit, the quality of character of an individual, the ability to acquire knowledge and skills, the possession of property, the establishment of social order. These ideas became fundamental principles that guided the formulation and development of classical Athens’ legal system. In this way, the idea of justice – the idea of a just and fair society – is still alive and well in contemporary societies.
Law in action – and especially the functioning of the legal system – are usually perceived as having two aspects. On the one hand, the law as it pertains to individuals and society is seen as something that protects individual rights and freedoms. In fact, one of the primary purposes of law – derived from the idea of justice – is to protect individuals from unjust discrimination and action. Consequently, laws that guard against domestic violence, racism, sexism, poverty and other societal ills are important goals of law. And laws that protect the public from acts of terrorism are important goals of law as well.
However, the perception of justice as something that favors the powerful and privileged is also widespread in our society. For example, many people feel that the financial and corporate sector of society is under-represented in the process of lawmaking and regulation. And they are right. The interests of money in society are not served when certain industries are given special treatment in the legal system or when some members of society are denied access to certain opportunities.
Justice is also seen to have an impact on personal life. Consider, for example, the issue of abortion. Law has been used to prohibit abortion, either by the state or through legislation. In addition, some religions have been defined as legitimate, or even required, to avoid acting against the ethical principles of their religion. Such actions, critics claim, also contradict the concept of justice.
Thus, the perspective of law as something that favoring the powerful and the wealthy is widespread throughout our society. This perspective is also reflected in the high number of tickets that are awarded to the plaintiff in lawsuits, compared to the tickets that are awarded to the defendant. And those who are on the losing side in such lawsuits are likely to feel the force of social justice – the belief that the law is just and should be administered fairly. They may be further frustrated when they discover that the law is not just in terms of what it allows and does not allow. As with other forms of social justice – such as gender equality, racial equality, workplace fairness – the perspective of law as a progressive champion of disadvantaged people is often challenged by developments in technology and globalization. This calls for a more comprehensive view of the value of law.