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Justice through the Ages
Publication date: 2001-12-12

Justice Through the Ages - A Historical Overview

This is a generalized overview of the evolution of the main concepts of justice from tribal chiefs to independent courts to the modern politicized justice and to the formalized abstract justice of the World Court of Justice.

The overview is based mostly on the English Civil Justice System, which with some variations is the predominant system in the world today.

Early Beginnings   -----   to top

In any human group disputes are bound to arise and some people might wish to kill, maim or injure others, or to interfere in some way with their freedom or property.

And in all groups some people will take it upon themselves to seek to resolve disputes between members of the group, or to protect members of the group from unjust acts inflicted upon them by others.

In the smallest natural unit of human society — the family, resolution of disputes between children, and punishment and restraint of aggressive behavior is usually performed by the parents, or grandparents.

The way such primitive justice is administered is totally informal and depends entirely on the character and wishes of the parents. The parents can be just, or frivolous, treat all children equally, or favor ones over others. They can be permissive or tyrannic despots. The effectiveness of such justice also depends on the children, who can be obedient or rebellious.

The oldest social units were tribes — groups of families, often originating from common ancestors, and united by a language and culture.

Such tribes were governed by chiefs, or elders, part of whose duties was resolution of disputes and punishment of crimes.

Such system of administration of justice is more formal than that of a family and can be influenced by traditions passed from generation to generation. But the character and wishes of the chief still play the decisive part. He can be just, or frivolous, fair or favoritist, permissive or tyrannic despot.

Such systems are still found in some parts of the world.

Occasionally from among people there appear individuals with unusual sense of right and wrong, who see it their duty to lead people on the path of truth and justice.

Examples of such people are the prophets of the Bible and of the Qur'an.

They lay down civil and criminal laws and set standards of behavior and morality, and found religions. Their teachings are recorded and become religious books.

Within the life time of these people government, administration of justice, morality, and religious beliefs are inseparably bound into a unified law of human behavior, but after their death their teachings become into religions as systems of worship, government becomes politics of power, and law and administration of justice become part of that government.

Formalization of Law   -----   to top

As tribes join together to form national states under the leadership kings, a hierarchical system of administration of justice appears. Chiefs, feudal lords, or regional governors administer justice among the people within their areas, while the kings administer justice between the feudal lords.

The system of administration of justice is becoming more formal and written law codes appear. But the character and wishes of the feudal lords and of the kings still play the decisive part. They can be just, or frivolous, fair or favoritist, permissive or tyrannic despot.

Independent Courts and Supremacy of Law   -----   to top

The next stage is appearance of independent courts where administration of justice is performed by judges specially appointed for that purpose.

The system is becoming still more formal and abstract, and the concept of the law being above the will of the king enters the scene.

But the decisions still depend on the views, and opinions of the judges.

With the emergence of “democracy”, and diminution of the role of the kings, a new force comes into play — legislative assemblies, or parliaments.

The will of the king is replaced with the “will of the people” as expressed by politicians elected on their behalf.

But will, be it of kings or of the people, implies frivolity, and a conflict develops between the abstract, impartial rule of law as interpreted by judges, and laws introduced by politicians to buy favors of those on whose votes they depend.

At the early stage, the principle of supremacy of the law over parliament prevailed. An English judge, Lord Coke, stated in Bonham's case in 1610:

When an act of Parliament is against common right or reason or repugnant or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it, and adjudge such act to be void.

The Socialist Experiment   -----   to top

While in the Western world the rule of kings gave way to parliamentary democracy, in Russia it was replaced with government whose philosophy was based on the idea that ownership of property by private individuals was a social evil, and that all property should be owned by the people as a whole and managed by the government on their behalf.

All private property was taken away from private people and put under government control, and all people became effectively property of the government.

The effect of this was that the system of administration of justice in Russia became little more than instrument of government policy, and was practically reduced to a criminal justice system without the civil element. Because private property and private business activity disappeared, the main ingredients of a civil justice system: contract and tort lost their reasons for existence.

This philosophy called “socialism” found many supporters in the Western World as well, and laws were introduced by parliaments based on that philosophy.

And although the Russian model of socialism proved unworkable and the system broke down under its own weight, laws based on socialist thinking still remain in force in western Europe. And, while socialist politicians have abandoned the ideal of total “public ownership”, their thinking is still based on the same false assumptions that underlie the socialist ideal.

The Age of Political Convenience   -----   to top

By the second half of the 20th century, the mass of politically motivated “social” legislation in the western world reaches such proportions, that the fundamental principles of equality under the law, and the principles of contract and tort, are replaces with frivolous laws based on reaction of politicians to various pressure groups, and on ideological fashions of the time.

The principle of supremacy of the common law is replaced with the interpretation of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty as “a law enacted by parliament is valid no matter how absurd, no matter how unjust; only parliament itself can change its laws. The role of the courts is only to apply laws enacted by parliament”.

The principles of ‘right and wrong’, ‘true and false’, are replaced with the principles of ‘political convenience’ and ‘social acceptability’.

As one British policeman said in the 1970's:

Our superintendent spends all his time reading new legislation. We no longer know what is right and what is wrong.

This loss of sense of ‘right and wrong’ affected British judges as well.

The side effect of this phenomenon, aided by removal of restrictions on lawyers fees, was that in the 1990's the British courts became clogged with trivial cases, lasting for years and the costs reaching millions of pounds.

The British Civil Justice System, once a model for the whole world, became almost unworkable.

This was recognized by the top British judges, and a report Access to Justice was produced in 1996. This report suggested some drastic measures to improve the system. The measures had been implemented, but the state of the system has not improved.

This is what The Times (July 3, 2001) writes on the results of implementation of the Access to Justice Report:

“People are being denied access to justice because of the costs of litigation, according to the most senior civil judge in England and Wales. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Master of the Rolls, believes that two years on from reforms aimed at tackling costs and delays in civil justice, costs remain a ‘major problem’. Lord Phillips, who chairs the Civil Justice Council, the watchdog body over the civil justice system, wants the Lord Chancellor to conduct a review of funding litigation. ‘Costs are not working well’, he told The Times. ‘We need to find a solution.’”.

But the time and the costs are the result of the inability of the system to achieve its stated purpose — to produce judicial decisions which will be seen by the parties as ‘just’, and can be proved to be just. And preferably to produce such decisions at the first attempt in the court of primary jurisdiction, without the need for appeals.

But such justice can be achieved only by impartial consideration of the facts and the evidence, and by making decisions logically following from evaluation of these facts against clearly defined principles of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Justice cannot be achieved by application of the principles of ‘political convenience’ and ‘social acceptability’.

And it is this inability to achieve justice, that results in appeal after appeal, in cases lasting for years, and costs running into millions of pounds.

Trying to speed up the process by disallowing appeals from perverse judgements, or rushing cases through a ‘fast track’ system might cut the time and the costs, but will not produce just decisions.

To achieve real justice the system has to be re‐built from scratch, from prime principles — the principles of ‘true and false’, ‘right and wrong’.

And this is where the World Court of Justice steps in.

Back to Independent Courts and Supremacy of Law and Forward towards Government without Politics   -----   to top

The World Court of Justice goes back to the principles of truth, honesty and justice being the foundations of government and of the legal system. It rejects not only the principles of ‘political convenience’ and ‘social acceptability’, but politics itself as a method of government. Government must become honest, objective and impartial. Judicial decisions will no longer be based on loosely stated opinions and views, but on logical derivations from proven facts. Court decisions will no longer depend on personalities of judges, but on facts and facts alone. The role of the World Court of Justice is to provide a blue print for such system, and make it accessible to all.

The international Scene   -----   to top

On the international scene, in the past, the law was limited to various treaties, that various tribes and nations made with each other from time to time.

There never has been any way of enforcing any of the treaties, except through wars.

On the whole the main principle of international law has always been ‘might is right’.

While the need for a law based system of resolution of disputes between nations has been recognised following the First World War with the resulting emergence of the League of Nations and this recognition was still further enforced by the Second World War with the emergence of the United Nations Organization, no truly workable supranational system of justice has emerged.

The World Court of Justice is the first attempt to introduce a truly supranational legal system on the international scene.

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