Justice, truth and peace #
The early civilisations of Greece, China and Sumeria laid the foundations for our concepts of a Just Society in the form of their codifications of laws. The statue of Lady Justice in Athens depicts justice as equipped with three symbols: a sword symbolizing the court’s coercive power; a human scale weighing competing claims in each hand; and a blindfold indicating impartiality.
Around 1771, BCE, Hammurabi, one of the most successful kings of the Babylonian Empire, decreed a set of laws to every city-state in order to better govern his bourgeoning empire. Hammurabi outlines his objectives:
When the god Marduk commanded me to provide just ways for the people of the land (in order to attain) appropriate behavior, I established truth and justice as the declaration of the land. I enhanced the well being of the people.
Australian Justice Michael Kirby agreed, always unambiguously standing for the proposition that justice is about more than technical interpretation and slavish following of precedent – and is in fact about ensuring humanity is enhanced.
In one of the first Hebrew codes of laws, “Rabbi Shimon ben (son of) Gamliel asserts the three bedrock principles that underpin Western legal systems:
‘The world stands upon three things: upon Truth, Justice and Peace. Without these three elements the world cannot be sustained - and further, like the pillars holding up the ceiling of a house, all three are essential - together: There can be no Truth in the absence of Justice and Peace; no Justice in the absence of Truth and Peace; no Peace in the absence of Truth and Justice.
Justice is essential in any fair minded productive society. Without a just society communities cannot reach their full potential. Without Art we cannot have a culture; without Laws, no society; without Justice, no peace.
However, laws do not necessarily equate to Justice, as The Codes of Ur Nammu, 2100 – 2015 BC or the proscriptions of Leviticus illustrate. They merely list a series of implacable injunctions against certain acts considered taboo, leaving no room for mitigation.
Western civilisation began its long journey towards a fair and just society with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 but is heavily influenced by Greek , Roman and Hebrew models.
The cornerstone of our system of democracy is the separation of our system of justice from the legislative and executive arms of government. Yet all three are needed to guard the public from abuse of office by the other two.
The problem lies in the fact that Justice is administered by the judiciary while the laws are framed by parliamentarians who notionally reflect the attitudes of contemporary mores or values. Politicians are renown for being motivated by popular perceptions and will often cater to current fads or fears and make laws which will appeal to voters.
Statesmen have a longer vision and will draw up constitutions which can protect citizens from short sighted politicians. Yet breaches of judicial codes can only be held to account by politicians.
Evan Whitton writes: (Crikey 09 06 11) that the fundamental problems with the adversarial legal system we acquired as a colony of England are that trial lawyers who are in charge of evidence are necessarily adept at sophistry. Judges are not trained as judges separately from lawyers and many fail to make the transition from an adversarial to a judicial mindset.
Taxpayers who fund the system thus cannot be sure that statements by lawyers or judges are the product of justice or of sophistry to serve some other purpose.
We are bombarded with political rhetoric. Diverse religious systems and institutions across the globe proclaim themselves as the guardians of ‘Truth’, ‘Justice’ and ‘Peace’, despite their patent failure to put these noble ideals into practice . It is the miscarriage of justice that saps society of constructive energy and advancement.
“The ‘law’ is”, in the immortal words of Thomas Aquinas,
“no law at all, but rather a species of violence”.
“Be ye ever so high, the law is above you” is the great principle that embodies the rule of law.
When we were young we were told to always tell the truth. The search for truth is an ideal all genuine scholars aim for. But in the real world things are different; most people evade telling the truth for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. In the credibility stakes, car salesmen, politicians and journalists rank near the bottom. Nurses and teachers reign supreme.
As Tacitus stated: crime, once exposed, has no refuge but in audacity.
Government secrecy gives us less power as citizens and gives us worse governance as a result.
Sunshine is often described as the best disinfectant Rats and cockroaches scramble for cover when the light is turned on, but pachyderms have enough hide they don’t need to hide.
“Twice armed is he whose cause is just; but thrice, he who strikes the first blow”
Jurisprudence Fetishist Gets Off On Technicality www.theonion.com
We keep power in check, which is different to influence #
Power, though still concentrated, is measured and exercised through the evasion of accountability.
“You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Doctor Who
“The thin and precarious crust of decency is all that separates any civilization, however impressive, from the hell of anarchy or systematic tyranny which lie in wait beneath the surface.” Aldous Huxley
Systemic or institutional tyranny
I appreciate the invidious position of a judge in contest of narratives; of vested interests in which power rather than quaint notions of truth and logic determine the victor. Judges have little training upon accepting their promotions and some may find the transition from an adversarial career to a judicial one a paradigm shift too difficult to make.
As Blaise Pascal advises, “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just, may be powerful, and whatever is powerful, may be just.”
Judges hold special status in our society but with that status comes an onerous responsibility; objectivity, impartiality and rational judgements that reflect the common good.
Though Lord Acton had papal infallibility and the absolute powers of monarchs in mind when writing to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, his warnings apply to all people invested with great power, including judges:
….Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…… There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it."
Judges are not placed above the universally accepted principles of natural justice, judicial fairness, and sound reason. On the contrary, partiality is a luxury any person in a position of power can ill afford. Public faith, trust and confidence in our appointed officials provides a precious basis for a vibrant democracy and a harmonious, just and civil society.
Greg Barnes writes:
“All too often judges are criticised for being pompous and out of touch with the community. While this accusation is grossly unfair, it is understandable. Of course, if we insist on calling judges Your Honour and using ridiculously quaint expressions such as “If Your Honour pleases” in addressing a court, it’s no wonder that the deification of the judiciary is alive and well in Australia today.”
Retired High Court Justice Michael Kirby recommended that protocols be developed to deal with judges who bully counsel or witnesses.
‘‘In serious and repeated cases, bullying by judicial officers should be recognised as an abuse of public office warranting commencement of proceedings for the removal of the offender from judicial office,’’ he said.
‘‘A judge is a servant of the law and is commissioned by the Queen and the community to do their duty, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.
‘‘They have to be held to that, in my opinion, because if they’re not, they’re going to go on [bullying others].''
If Airlines are grounded for breaching safety standards; doctors are suspended for breaching codes of practice, surely we can hold Honourable Justices to account for breaching universally accepted codes of impartiality.