“Gentlemen… may I remind you you are in a court of law?”
A great line from a great movie — …And Justice For All — one of a string of great lines regarding justice and the legal system, our rules and values, order, reality, ethics, idealism, and overall humanity. This is truly one hell of a motion picture.
It couldn’t not be. Justice is a massive issue, a mega therion only a brilliant production such as this could handle. And handle it it did. The script is sharp, the characters fresh, the performance inspired, the premise honest and realistic, the result familiar. Too familiar. The situation is frank enough to be incisive and thought-provoking, if not unnervingly illuminating. Spring cleaning is a dirty and challenging task, but ultimately rewarding.
It’s also tricky. Justice is about doing the right thing, executing the right move, upholding truth across the board and promoting order. It’s about protecting the innocent from lies as much as it is about protecting the accused, the sentenced, the guilty. If you’re innocent you have the right to an attorney, to a hearing and trial without prejudice. If you’re guilty you have the same rights until proven guilty. Everybody is equal until proven otherwise.
What’s more, there’s justice after sentencing. ‘Innocent until sentencing’ is the cornerstone of a just society, and so is the protection of the condemned and incarcerated. Those found guilty don’t lose all their rights. They remain under the protection of the law and are entitled to food, shelter, safety, protection from injury, protection from discrimination and prejudice, protection from cruel and unusual punishment… In theory anyway.
Yes, justice is a difficult, jumpy process. It doesn’t necessarily fall in line with expectations. It’s a slippery slope that turns perilous over the course of time, throwing people this way or that, depending on who says what at any given time, to whom they say it and when, through what channels, based on what evidence etc. It’s a big and elaborate process that needs to be adhered to for things to stand and make sense. Without it, everything is hearsay, mumbo-jumbo in the wind.
The principle of justice in not limited to the national court of law. In an age where boundaries blend, merge and join each other through the channels of market trade and the global economy, and with everything becoming part of an interconnected dynamic that hints at the next step in human evolution, justice is fought over across the four corners of the world, in the fields, on the ground, in everyday life. On a global and international level. On all kinds of fields, on account of issues that have low common denominators. Justice is larger than any local legal system per se, than any regional jurisdiction or national quip, challenging human lore across the board and demanding defense everywhere.
With a crisis in full throttle, it’s bound to become a hot topic, bound to be tested.
The effects of this tension are felt all over the world, especially since the Great Recession and the debt crisis that followed. The book of law and order that provided us direction throughout the years is tested against new situations and developments. Fresh insights rise to challenge old norms, pitching principle against reality and value against wealth. The rule of law is challenged and scrutinized, pitted against common sense and judged on its outcomes, on what it enables and protects, on what it prevents and prohibits. It is challenged and redrafted, revealing its dysfunctional and lopsided parts in order to change them, all without abandoning order and falling into anarchy. That’s the aim anyway.
We call this process ‘value recalibration.’ It’s a difficult, tricky process. In the heat of the moment and in the wake of disagreement, one gets carried away and attacks the concept of justice rather than the cases and instances of corrupt rule. The baby gets thrown out with the bath water. Tensions rise and violence erupts. Lifestyles are challenged and choices are made, some seeking to preserve what is there, others seeking to create something new. Conservatism becomes associated with narrow-mindedness and bigotry, as well as with the defense of classical values, a few of them anyway. Progressiveness becomes associated with open-mindedness and progress, but also with irreverence and anarchy. In the process, justice mutates.
What emerges from this dynamic is the value of justice, both a process and a phenomenon, more than fancy words and statements. More than the courts of law where it’s tried, or the political chambers that enact it, and the universities that conceived it. It’s more than an uprising by the disenfranchised and disillusioned, a much larger concept that transcends time. It’s a system in operation, an engine we keep improving, and which needs constant maintenance. It wouldn’t work if it were not systemic and practical, like an engine. There needs to be method behind the approach, otherwise there would only be whim, righteousness, chaos. Standardized procedure helps fend in the inconsistent and rein in the unaccountable without doing favors to anyone. Regulation is the cornerstone of order. The law is upheld in precise, reliable, systematic ways. If not, it stops being law and reduces itself to (un)just power – and we end up with a society out of order, running in circles.