Justice for All—How? When?
WHO would deny that “justice for all” is a fine principle? But, being realistic, we know that this is not the case yet.
Over the centuries sincere men and women have struggled to decrease injustice and increase justice. Reform movements have altered political structures. Legal procedures and court systems have been revised and reorganized. Still, injustice remains!
This leads persons to conclude that “justice for all” will never be; some even become cynical or feel concerned about injustice only when it touches them. However, there is reason for optimism. Something can and will be done to bring about justice for all. But how and when? We can better appreciate the answers by considering some causes of injustice and obstacles to justice. Also, we will note how complex the problem of obtaining full justice is.
START AT THE TOP
Noted Jurist Marvin E. Frankel pointed out:
“ . . . we cannot ignore the extent to which the behavior of community leaders determines the attitudes of the people toward law and order. We live in an era during which the candor and the integrity of our highest officials—not excluding judges, but not mainly judges—have been drawn into acute question.”
Clearly, corruption among government and law-enforcement leaders is a major obstacle to full justice. How can justice for all ever be achieved as long as those empowered to enforce justice are open to bribes or show favoritism toward persons of influence? Long ago the Bible correctly stated: “When anyone wicked bears rule, the people sigh. By justice a king makes a land keep standing, but a man out for bribes tears it down.”—Prov. 29:2, 4.
If, then, justice for all is to become a reality, there must be honest, just leadership.
ONE LAW FOR ALL
Another obstacle to justice is the fact that, today, how much justice you get may involve who you are or how much you have.
In some places “justice” can depend on a person’s ability to hire expensive lawyers. True, sometimes the court supplies able lawyers to defend those who cannot afford such. But these lawyers are often overworked or are not available for all types of cases. Consequently, a gangster or dishonest businessman who can pay for an elaborate, technical defense may “buy” what passes for justice.
An American lawyer who headed a 175-man legal team defending one person made this revealing observation:
“The first thing you [have] to realize is that the quality of justice in this country is directly related to the pocketbook. . . . It’s poor people who go to jail because poor people cannot get justice in this judicial system. My first week of practicing law, I went over to court to watch a trial, and I saw four poor people get severe sentences for gambling. Then I went to a [lawyers’] association meeting, and they’re all sitting around with [gambling] machines.”
Even if convicted, punishment may be determined partially by a person’s financial or social standing. In some cases of “white-collar” fraud involving millions of dollars a relatively light sentence is given with the explanation that the criminal has been punished with loss of prestige. Yet a newspaper editorialized:
“Any prominent defendant can plausibly argue that public exposure and contempt are sufficient retribution. By that standard, it is only the least favored members of society who would receive the highest penalties, since they cannot claim loss of status. ‘Equal justice’ is more easily proclaimed than practiced.”
Hence, if justice for all is ever to be obtained, there will have to be one law for all persons no matter what their position or wealth. The Bible called attention to this important principle, for the Hebrew law said: “One judicial decision should hold good for you. The alien resident should prove to be the same as the native, because I am Jehovah your God.”—Lev. 24:22; 19:34; Num. 9:14; 15:16.
Even if the law is clear and it applies to all, rendering just sentences can still be a problem.
The New York Post of May 5, 1976, reported:
“Attorney General Levi criticized the nation’s system of sentencing criminals as slow, uncertain and unfair, and said it ‘has the attributes of a lottery.’ . . . In one federal judicial district, 71 per cent of all convicted defendants go to prison while in another district only 16 per cent are imprisoned if convicted of similar charges, he noted.”
How to deal with such disparity is a question. You may have heard the suggestion that there should be a set mandatory sentence for each crime. For example, anyone who steals a car gets a certain fine or length of imprisonment; the person who commits arson must serve a fixed number of years in confinement; and so forth. While such a judicial system might sound simple and fair, would it really be just? For example, should the first-time offender who is sincerely repentant receive the same sentence as a brazen criminal?
At a conference of criminologists and judges in Berlin, Dr. Richard Sturm of West Germany’s Ministry of Justice described one attempt to deal with the matter. It involved “social prognosis,” that is, analyzing a defendant’s life circumstances and past record, then sentencing him accordingly. But Dr. W. Buikhuisen of the Netherlands questioned whether this might not “penalize some offenders twice.” He reasoned that if they “already had suffered from disadvantaged circumstances, they were likely to be considered poor risks and given longer sentences.”
The problem’s perplexity underscores that if there is to be justice for all, wise and fair judges are needed. The Biblical law system given to the Israelites stressed this fact. In it God stipulated: “You are not to pervert the judicial decision of your poor man in his controversy. You are to keep far from a false word. . . . You are not to accept a bribe, for the bribe blinds clear-sighted men.” (Ex. 23:6-8) God further said: “You people must not do injustice in the judgment. You must not treat the lowly with partiality, and you must not prefer the person of a great one. With justice you should judge your associate.”—Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:15-17.
What would help to keep those Hebrew judges from becoming unjust? Reverential fear of God. They were told: “It is not for man that you judge but it is for Jehovah; and he is with you in the matter of judgment. And now let the dread of Jehovah come to be upon you. Be careful and act, for with Jehovah our God there is no unrighteousness or partiality or taking of a bribe.”—2 Chron. 19:6, 7.
NEW APPROACHES TO JUSTICE?
Over the years there have been many changes in the systems of justice in various lands. These changes often were made in accord with some new theory or philosophy regarding justice.
For instance, over the last century much attention has been given to efforts to rehabilitate criminals, striving to make social adjustments in them rather than primarily punishing them. This philosophy has also tended to encourage more leniency in sentencing.
While certainly commendable in theory, how has this approach worked out? Alan Dershowitz, professor of law and coordinator of a task force on criminal sentencing, said:
“Rehabilitation simply has not worked. A recent survey of more than 200 studies of rehabilitation came to the discouraging conclusion that we have ‘very little reason’ to believe that recidivism [recurrent relapse into crime] can be reduced by any of the currently employed rehabilitation techniques.”
All too often the liberal, “humane” approach has resulted in returning to the streets persons who are habitual criminals. In Thinking About Crime James Q. Wilson, professor of government at Harvard, concluded: “Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. . . . We have trifled with the wicked, made sport of the innocent and encouraged the calculators. Justice suffers, and so do we all.” How true, for many persons have now lost hope that humans will ever see justice for all.
Of those who are still working to improve the system of justice, many are adjusting their approach. Some are now holding that “Punishment Is a Deterrent to Crime,” as one headline stated it. Professor Isaac Ehrlich of the University of Chicago recently completed a study that shows that “essentially, people are deterred by the certainty and severity of punishment.” And there may be hope that acting on this view will give the public some reason to think that a measure of justice can come to “the halls of justice.”
Another approach that is receiving increased attention is restitution or compensation. The Toronto Star (July 22, 1976) reported:
“A law offender should directly pay the victim for the damage or loss caused, the Law Reform Commission said in a working paper yesterday. . . . ‘Restitution and compensation have been chosen for early consideration because they represent means of directing more attention to the victim of the crime, stressing the responsibility of the offender and the state [to] make up for the harm done to the greatest possible extent.’”
That Canadian paper told also of experiments in Edmonton in which offenders had to “work off fines instead of going to jail.”
But, really, is all of this a new method of justice? No, for restitution and compensation were part of God’s law to ancient Israel. A man who stole a bull, for instance, had to make double compensation, or more, depending on the case. If he could not, he had to serve as a hired laborer until he paid off what was due the victim. (Ex. 22:1-9) Compensation was also required for slander, injuries and property damage. (Ex. 21:35, 36; Deut. 22:13-19) You can see that this just arrangement protected and recompensed the victim, taught the lawbreaker a powerful lesson and did not burden the community with the cost of supporting prisons.
But, much as a person today might appreciate the wisdom of God’s way of providing justice in Israel, he may conclude that such times are past. He might feel that no one can bring justice to all in our complex times.
A PROMISED CHANGE—JUSTICE!
Complicated and distressing as the modern problems with justice are, there is reason for hope. Have you noticed that many of the obstacles to justice could be overcome if God’s counsel in the Bible were followed? The same God who provided that counsel promises that justice for all will come and that soon.
That blessing does not depend on our changing the existing governmental and judicial systems to follow ancient Israel’s law. Certainly it is true that we can contribute toward there being more justice by personally being just and fair. That is fitting, for the Creator urges persons to “exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with [their] God.” (Mic. 6:8) But the real reason full justice earth wide is coming soon is that God himself will take action.
In the previous article we considered Jesus’ parable found in Luke chapter 18 that stressed the need to persevere in prayer to God, who will “cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night.” But those prayers are not only about justice. Jesus was urging his followers to pray about the complete end of the entire wicked system of things, which is what he spoke of in the previous chapter. (Luke 17:20-30) This drastic change for the better will be brought about by God’s heavenly Kingdom government that will destroy the corrupt human governments with their long history of injustice. And the details of Jesus’ prophecy combine with the facts of history in our time to prove that ours is the generation that will see that changeover to rulership from heaven. (Dan. 2:44; Matt. 24:3-14) However, why should we think that this will mean justice for all?
For one thing, because justice will come from the top down. We are assured that the head of that government will ‘establish it firmly and sustain it by means of justice and by means of righteousness.’ (Isa. 9:6, 7) What about others who will exercise authority? Isaiah 32:1 descriptively indicates that they “will rule as princes for justice itself.” As was true in ancient Israel, under the Kingdom rulership there will be one law or system of judicial decisions applying to all.
Will unjust treatment still be rife, as it is today? Isaiah 26:9 shows why the answer is No, saying: “When there are judgments from [Jehovah] for the earth, righteousness is what the inhabitants of the productive land will certainly learn.”
‘Fine,’ some may think, ‘but what of those who refuse?’ For, as Professor Wilson said, “Wicked people exist.” God, who is the “Judge of all the earth,” promises to see to it that only those willing to learn and practice justice and righteousness will be let remain alive.—Gen. 18:25; Isa. 26:10; Ps. 37:9-11.
Recently two doctors studying the “criminal personality” said:
“What is needed to stop crime, . . . is not so much better housing or conventional therapy, but an offender’s ‘conversion’ to a whole new lifestyle and a rigorous moral education. . . . Rehabilitation, they concluded, requires . . . ‘a total destruction of a criminal’s personality . . .’”
That is precisely what former wrongdoers will need to do, in order to qualify for life in God’s new order—put on “the new personality . . . created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Eph. 4:24) And that surely will be part of the educational program under God’s Kingdom rulership so that all who will can follow his just standards for living. (Isa. 2:3, 4) So there will be justice for all!