I’ve already posted what I think the origin of law may be in my earlier post ‘Animal Instincts‘, so in this post I will discuss the nature of law and justice.
A lawyer in the movie ‘Undisputed‘ had a great line, which I am unable to quote verbatim as I couldn’t find the screenplay on the internet (my Google-Fu is weak today); but the line went something like “Law is nothing to do with justice, the law is a tool”.
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
The law is a set of rules and procedures which people are supposed to live and work by; justice is the perceived morally correct resolution of a problem (the perception guided by emotions, individual and collective interpretation and perception of morals and other circumstances at the time).
When judge decides the verdict on a case, that judge is not necessarily deciding what is just. It’s far more likely that the judge is deciding the most convenient resolution; which resolution fits the problem as well as the legal and political framework the judge is obliged to work within.
It is said that the judiciary works ‘within the shadow of the law’; and it is also said that the judiciary is an independent body, free of being influenced by politicians or government or other, more external interests.
Take the Binyam Mohammed case for example. Lord Neuberger (a ‘law lord’), Master of the Rolls, decided to amend a section of a judgement “quite significantly”. He did this upon request by a UK government appointed lawyer.
The judgement made was amended by request by the UK government. The judiciary had therefore been influenced and pushed to action by the UK government. It did not act independently here.
The judiciary is not the only aspect of UK law to have been influenced or affected by outside interests however. The phrases ‘all are equal under the law’, and that ‘no man is above the law’ are brought into question when the law itself is influenced by people not of the government, parliament or judiciary.
Take the ‘Cash for Influence‘ scandal for example. In 2009, a number of lords were taken to account over accusations made that they were willing and ready to accept payment of up to £120,000 to secure amendments to UK legislation.
The lords denied allegations of accepting bribes, pointing out that as they were lords, and there was no rule for lords being charged with accepting bribes, that this was merely a business discussion over lunch (so to speak).
Of course, the thought that the legislation which we live and work by and which judges use to decide the verdict on cases being amendable by specialist interests at all, never mind for as little as £120k, is quite disturbing; hence the scandal.
Quite apart from the judiciary being influenced by government (and the government being constantly lobbied by specialist interests), and the law itself being possibly open to amendment upon request by specialist interests, the lawyers themselves may be influenced by outside interests.
Take Lord Goldsmith QC, the former UK Attorney General as a prime example of this. During the Chilcot enquiry, Lord Goldsmith explained that the reason why he decided that the Iraq war was legal was absolutely not because he had been under pressure from then US President Bush’s lawyers to do so; but that following meetings with said lawyers, the reason was “it is the judgment you make of it.”
In other words, the reason why Lord Goldsmith decided that the Iraq war was legal was because he said it was.
So that means that the law, lawyers, government and judiciary can be influenced by outside or specialist interests. None of them are independent at all.
The law cannot possibly be truly just all the time then, because it cannot be truly impartial; and not all are truly equal under the law.