Barriers to justice

God loves righteousness and justice. This means that he prioritises it over religiosity.

“The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices.”[1]

So, God puts rulers and governments in place to make sure that justice happens. 

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honour you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.”[2]

“13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honour those who do right.”[3]

But what about when the State and the Legal system in place actually mean that there are barriers in place to getting justice? The most obvious way in which this can happen is when the system is corrupt. This may be because a tyrannical government intentionally uses the police and judiciary to crush political descent.  It is impossible for an opponent of the government to get justice if it is the regime itself that seeks their harm. The system may be corrupt because of a culture of bribery.  If you haven’t got the means to pay the bribe or if your integrity means that you refuse to pay it then you don’t get heard.

However, there are also barriers that people face even in a system that isn’t inherently corrupt. Here are some of them.

  1. The system may be biased towards giving a particular answer. For example, if Government policy is specifically designed to discourage immigration then it makes it harder for someone seeking leave to remain to get a favourable answer from the Home Office or an immigration tribunal.
  2. As we saw in the previous post, things like legal language, the complexity of the system, lack of communication etc may make it harder for people to access justice.
  3. Where money changes hands then the process is affected.  Whilst Legal Aid is available for some people in some cases, it cannot really be a level playing field if some are able to pay more for their preferred legal representation.
  4. Distance from the decision makers affects justice as well. A traditional tribal structure where the clan elders hear cases means that justice is done quickly and that those who make the decisions must live with the consequences of good and bad systems. In modern, industrial, urban culture, the people who decide justice are remote from the recipients. This means that the recipients are less likely to feel that the person hearing the case understands their situation. It also means that the legal process takes longer and people have to wait for justice.

All of these factors relate to one underlying issue. We are seeking justice in a fallen world with fallen, and finite decision makers.  The person assessing your case is fallible.  They will get decisions wrong. The system is fallible, it will not work perfectly.

It is worth remembering that even in the context of a fallible and fallen world, Solomon, Paul and Peter all hold out the possibility that real justice can happen.  This should encourage us to continue to seek and to work for justice.

[1] Proverbs 21:3.

[2] Romans 13:1-5.

[3] 1 Peter 2:13-14.