LAW04 Concepts - Justice Essay

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Law and Justice

“Discuss the meaning of justice and analyse the extent to which English law succeeds in achieving justice and whether it should seek to do so”

Justice is synonymous with ideas of fairness, reasonableness, impartiality etc., however, as Lord Lloyd emphasises, it is difficult to define because it is a moral concept and therefore differs between different people based on their own ideas of morality and fairness, for example some people may believe that capital punishment is fair and just as it is ‘an eye for an eye’ whereas others emphasise the sanctity of life and that it is wrong to kill, no matter the situation.

Due to its complexity and subjectivity, therefore, it is difficult to assess whether the English Legal System does succeed in achieving justice.  A good legal system should aim to create, apply and enforce justice, however, that is not always the case. Due to the nature of stare decisis, the principle that judges should stand by their past decisions, sometimes means that bad precedents are created and injustices happen, and these can be hard to change. For example, it took till 1991 in the case of R v R to change the precedent that it is legal for a man to **** his wife.

Similarly, what is justice for the defendant may not be justice for the victim, and vice versa, for example in the Jamaican case of Beckford, the defendant shot and killed a man in self-defence, therefore he should not be at fault and justice for him is being allowed the defence, however, his belief for the need for self-defence was mistaken, and therefore he killed the victim for no valid reason, and acquitting him does not give the victim and his family justice. The judge in the case Re: A on the separation of conjoined twins summed up this idea, “our answer will be applauded by some but as many will be offended”.

There are two different types of justice, which come from philosopher Aristotle, and these are distributive justice, which is concerned with the appropriate and proportionate distribution of wealth based upon merit and corrective justice where a distribution has been disturbed, wrongs should be corrected through fair remedy or punishment, achieved in criminal law through sanctions such as fines or imprisonment.   

There are arguably four main theories of justice: Natural law theories, utilitarianism, positivism and economic theories, each of which give different viewpoints on what justice in law is.

Natural law is the idea that law comes from a higher power, which, according to Fuller, is based on an ‘inner morality’ which we must follow, this is our innate ideas of what is right and wrong, also known as our conscience. In some ways, the Human Rights Act 1988 shows Fuller’s ideas of the law following inner morality as it ensures basic rights which we all deserve no matter the circumstances, such as the right to food, shelter, a fair trial, to be free from discrimination etc.

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