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The slippery slope of "Justice"

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Sat, Oct 20, 2012 at 22:00 IST (last updated: Sat, Oct 27, 2012 @ 16:25 IST)

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Justice is a term rarely used by lawyers except in a formal context and always never in a legal argument, except as a last resort. And for good reason. Litigants are almost always convinced that somehow justice is on their side, even if the law says otherwise and even if they cannot prove the facts that support their case.

Of course, no side is ever convinced that justice is done, unless they win the case. This is indeed a delicate position for lawyers who know their stuff, because clients often come to court with a weak case or even a case with no merits. Pointing this out at the very beginning can seem negative, and yet can save costs. But litigants are rarely convinced of this. They believe that even if the law says otherwise, somehow or the other, justice must be done and therefore they must win their case. Of course, some clients realize that they might lose the case but still fight because of various other reasons (ego issue, as a mode of harrassment, trying to gain some time to settle the dispute when it is favourable to do so and so on) but this kind is not so common. Most clients are convinced that they have "justice" on their side and that it is the lawyer's and judge's duty to deliver it to them.

Now, a good reason never to tell the judge outright that "justice is on my side" is simple. Judges are human and have egos, just like everybody else. They don't want to be impliedly told (by another lawyer) to do their job when they know how to do it. Repeating the justice argument without solid proven facts can actually be a sign of weakness.

Secondly, lawyers and judges can only work on the facts that are placed before them and are either proven by evidence or are self-evident. Rarely do all the facts of the case come out in evidence. Sometimes, neither party to a litigation might be telling the whole truth for self-serving reasons. In such cases, the lawyer puts forth the case of his client to the best of his/her ability without necessarily knowing on which side "justice" actually lies.

Finally, even if the facts support the litigant's case and even if they can be proved, the litigant might not be entitled to the relief he/she seeks, in law. This might appear to be a case of injustice, and yet the law might have some non-obvious, but valid reason for denying such a relief. Again, it is easier to blame the law for not delivering justice than it is to accept a lack of merit in one's own case.

Lawyers and judges are only human and they do make mistakes and have their individual shortcomings. And yet, while justice is often done in courts, approximately half the litigant public will always be convinced otherwise. But blaming the legal system in its entireity for not delivering "justice" in specific instances is actually missing the point. Appellate courts exist for a reason. They do correct obvious mistakes of law made by trial courts. In any event, disputes that come to court are rarely straightforward. It is naive to imagine that perfect justice must be possible in every case that comes to court, simply because one side or the other imagines that justice being on their side is a self-evident fact.

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