The formal justice system

Laws are rules and standards of behaviour which are prescribed by authorities who enforce them with various sanctions. If a law is to be successful, it must be backed by a reasonable section of the community or it falls into disrepute and becomes meaningless. Law is about the control and directing of human social conduct and behaviour. In our legal system we have a number of areas of law dealing with different issues.

Some laws deal with criminal behaviour, some deal with disputes between individuals and businesses known as civil, some deal with commercial transactions which is contract, civil disputes will include issues of negligence and nuisance. Law represents codes of social conduct, which society has decided should be compulsory. This might be described as the only common 'moral framework' there is. The law is a way of formally stating behaviour that is to be regarded as acceptable and behaviour that is regarded as unacceptable.

There is no choice about which laws are to be obeyed, as they are mandatory. Justice is a difficult concept to define, the words a person may use when defining it might include fairness, honesty, equality and truth. The legal system tries to achieve justice for all individuals. Sometimes it succeeds and other times it fails. It is said, to be easier in seeing when justice has not been done than when it has. Law sets out to be just. The formal justice system involves institutions following laid down procedures and principles. The aim is to have a just and independent system.

The system offered to individuals today would be the same used for another next week. All are equal before the law regardless of wealth, position or power, and all are subject to the same due process. Justice is something that we all want from a law and believe should be an integral part of any legal system. However, there are numerous examples from history of societies creating unjust laws, and in modern times there are many examples of miscarriages of justice occurring even in a legal system we consider to be fair, for example the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and even Stefan Kizco.

Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher, was one of the earliest to forward the view that all law should promote justice. There are many varied theories on the relationship between law and justice. Aristotle believed that justice involved allowing people to reach their potential as human beings in their society. In order to do this, wealth should be distributed fairly. He also believed, if something had disturbed the natural order of distribution within a society, the state should involve itself in correcting the unfairness.

Corrective distribution would be about redistributing assets after there had been some wrongdoing. Karl Marx argued simply that in any capitalist society all law is essentially unjust since it represents the means by which one class oppresses the class or classes below it. Marxist views of justice therefore, are based on the redistribution of wealth. Robert Nozick, on the other hand, argues that a just society is one where the state has the least possible power to interfere with the rights of the individual.

His theories are based on the ownership of property and the manner in which it has been gained. If it has been gained fairly then the state has no right to interfere. Redistribution of wealth is unfair because it interferes with basic individual rights. The problem of balancing out economic consideration and justice is that what may be just for society as a whole may be very unjust to a particular individual; a legal example would be seen in R v Gloucestershire County Council ex parte Barry (97).

We live in a complex society that has developed rules so that all citizens can understand their rights and responsibilities. These rules develop over time to meet the changing challenges forced upon us by political, economic, and social change. All major areas of law and their rules offer the opportunity to explore the notion of justice. There are many rules that operate in the courts to ensure that people are treated fairly and consistently. The doctrine of judicial precedent ensures that like cases are treated alike.

A defendant today committing an offence similar to one last year will expect to be treated in the same way and no less or more favourably. If judges see fit, they have the capacity to distinguish, overrule or reverse, meaning a greater chance of justice to those in front of them. A major development in tort was the tort of negligence and the Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 case. Lord Atkin created his famous neighbour test that for the first time produced a duty of care from manufacturing to consumer without the need for a contractual relationship.

Tort of negligence allows the claimant to seek damages from those who breach a duty of care that they have towards the claimant. The case is seen important as it shows the ability and power of judges to respond to changing situation. Within contract law, the courts have the power to protect the rights of innocent parties by using a number of mechanisms including payment of damages to the innocent party, claim for the agreed sum to be paid, and restitution that involves claiming money back.

There is also use of equity to provide a fair solution, order for specific performances, which forces one party to fulfils their obligations under the contract, and finally injunctions to prevent one party doing something, all of these measures ensure that innocent parties have protection under contract law. There are a number of important rules that attempt to ensure justice for both side in a criminal trial, in example the evidence rules, the previous convictions and double jeopardy protections and the sentencing guidelines.