It may be easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find justice anywhere on the globe.
Flaunted throughout history as a virtue and a pillar for a stable and secure society, it has never been given its due. Moreover, it has receded to the realm of rarities, to be another dream of humanity. Like Democracy, it has become a flimsy concept — inaccessible, unattainable, an impossible dream.
Corruption constantly elbows justice and it has always been so. Both are controlled by humans.
We watch with dismay the spread of corruption as the US presidential voting process unfolds. Who would have imagined all the deception, the cheating, the lies, manoeuvres and dirty tricks by the mighty, the powerful, the wealthy, the strong over the weak?
What say you when a billionaire distributes $1 million in one voting centre among a staff of 50-60 personnel. Why? In order to alter or discard names of legitimate candidates. What it means and how it can be allowed and accepted causes us to lose hope that justice, the bulwark of the remarkable American constitution, has become murky with the passing of the years.
Where then do we find justice? If not on this earth, then we have to look up to the heavens.
It has been said that justice favours the weak. That is utter nonsense. Prisons are filled with the poor, the minorities, the migrants, the helpless. Up to five per cent of prisoners in the US have been wrongly convicted. The situation is not very different in other countries and a lot worse in many.
The wealthy have access to power and influence and the best possible legal representation. Do they experience better treatment and consideration than the poor, powerless and without influence? You can bet on it.
Every courthouse has a statue or a plaque of Lady Justice. Since ancient times she has been portrayed as an elegant lady holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in another. It is an allegorical personification, partly deification, of the impartial and moral force in the judicial system. Its origin goes back to the ancient Egyptian goddess Maat, the Greek goddess Themis, also known as Justitia by the Romans.
We are all familiar with that noble image of a proud lady holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in another.
The scales are typically suspended from one hand upon which is measured the evidence of support and opposition. The sword represents authority and conveys the idea that justice can be swift and final. A snake under her foot symbolises evil and lies. The book is the law, from which justice is administered.
All great symbols, but the most telling of all is the blindfold. Yes, Lady Justice is blind. Objective and impartial, she is ready to act without fear or bias, regardless of power or wealth, race, gender, religion, politics, etc. It’s a catchall for all things that differentiate people. Lady Justice does not care who comes to her. She cares about the relation to the law, and the law only.
Here is the rub. Is justice really blind? Well, not really, not at all. It is dispensed by humans, not gods. Humans are influenced by wealth, social standing, class and ideology. Regardless of all the oaths, promises, strength and dedication, humans possess emotions that should be but are not always controlled. Errors in judgement favour the wealthy, with the best possible legal representation. The poor, the powerless, become invisible to justice.
There are generally five legal systems practised worldwide: civil law, common law, customary law, religious law, and mixed law.
Civil law originated in the Roman legal system. France and Germany are such examples.
Common law relies more on precedent judicial decisions with a judge or jury moderating between two opposing parties. This is the US legal system.
Customary law is based on patterns of behaviour that have come to be accepted as rules of conduct, usually unwritten, passed down through generations.
Religious law emanates from texts written in holy books such as Sharia in Islam.
Mixed legal systems use two or more of the above systems.
Unfair treatment before the law is a major contributor to instability and violent extremism. Up to four billion of the world’s population do not benefit from the proper rule of law or equal access to justice. The number could be higher when the Lady’s blindfold is removed, which is at most times.
Is there any place in this world, whether rich or poor, where you can be protected by the fair administration of the rule of law? For the past 10 years Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden have headed the list of a fairly equal form of justice, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. The UK ranked 12th, the US 20th.
The Lady needs some brushing up in the US. A newly released report finds 2.4 million individuals incarcerated in the US. Australia, Canada, Wales, and Germany, for example, provide a policy of options such as fines, community service, probation or treatment.
However, for the second year in a row the 2019 index scores have found more countries declined rather than advanced the rule of law.
Lady Justice is neither blind nor objective. Temptation has no mercy.
God alone has no partiality or bias.
Only God can deliver justice.
“This is a court of law young man, not a court of justice.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr (1841-1945)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.