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The Main features of Justice, Law and Punishment Essay

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Justice is the means to create and maintain equality. According to Horner and Westacott, “Justice is fairness, equal opportunities for all to make something of their lives, and a way back from the deaths for those who fail.” In order to create equality, justice must be an integral part of everyone in society, Plato believed that all the elements of society should work together for the health of the whole, and that justice is the expression of that health. It is therefore easy for the justice system to incorporate Kant’s deontological ethics as it is based on universalizability, where justice is applied to everyone equally.

Charles Colson reinforces this view by stating that the law gains its moral authority by encompassing an objective standard of justice applicable to all humanity. However where Kant would state that the justice system should come from laws based on rationality and the categorical imperative, Colson would argue that laws should be based on religious commands, or divine commands, from the highest authority, God. Either way it is the objective moral theories like Kant’s Categorical Imperative or Aquinas’ Natural Moral Law that dominates most justice systems.

In reality however, justice is hard to achieve because life is full of inequalities. David Hume believed that a system of “justice of equality” could not be created as people are born unequal; some are clever, some are beautiful, some are talented, therefore they will prosper more than others that are not. Justice is therefore difficult to achieve as it limits people’s freedom by helping those who are born with advantages. For example those who are born into rich families will get finer education and receive greater opportunities in life compared to those that are poor. However the system of justice tries to balance this out, in this case the system in the UK offers benefits to the families that are not earning enough money to cater for their children’s needs.

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Justice can only be maintained universally with rules and regulations, or in other words laws. Laws have existed for over a millennium, it has been highly influenced and strengthened by religious ideology. For example Christianity’s 10 commandments had been integrated as part of the law for many hundreds of years, these ideas coincide with the moral system of Natural Moral law. Created by St. Thomas Aquinas, it is an objective principle designed to assist decision making and maintain order in society through divine revelation and naturalistic ideals.

However many people argue with these views. Over the years the sources of justice have long been debated, who decides what justice is? After the period of enlightenment religious laws were amended, removed or changed, for example “Do not commit adultery”. If you commit adultery you will not be stoned to death in the UK. Furthermore, autocratic rule had come to an end by the 20th century in most countries, Britain, France and the US boasted democracy as their apparatus for justice, instead of a higher being or a king. This was fuelled by certain theories like Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperatives. Utilitarianism focused on bringing equality and justice to the majority, whilst Kant focused on universal laws being created out of rationality and a sense of good will.

Although laws are created and influenced through objective moral theories, it is also relative to time and place. There are different law systems in different parts of the world; there is the Sharia in the Middle East, which differs from the laws of Britain. Euthanasia is allowed in Belgium but is illegal in the UK.

Punishments exist to ensure that the law is being followed. Without punishment there would be anarchy and conflict. Punishment is an essential part of the system that takes seriously the notions of justice, authority and law. Charles Colson wrote, “The primary purpose of criminal justice is to preserve order with the minimum infraction of individual liberties.” This is reinforced by the views of J.S.Mills who states that the only purpose of passing laws is to stop one person doing significant harm to another against the person’s will, punishment ensures this. Both Mills and Colson agree that punishment should be proportional, humane and respectful to the equality and dignity of all human beings.

There are many forms of punishment; deterrence is about preventing or discouraging a person from doing a particular action. One person being punished could prevent others committing the same crime. Reform is concerned with changing the offender’s viewpoint or circumstances so that they will not reoffend. Prisons offer educational programmes.

Protection is another type of punishment, to lock up someone in prison in order to protect the rest of society from their actions. Another form is to vindicate the law in order for the system to maintain the respect and order of the people. The final form of punishment is retribution, those who do wrong must be punished, retribution is said to reinforce the values of the community, making individuals responsible for their actions and give society a feeling of revenge, for example the hanging of Saddam Hussain.

The first four forms of punishment can be justified on utilitarian grounds. Punishment is a means of minimising suffering for society. The fifth form of punishment is based on defending the grounds of natural justice.

Punishment is also relative from place to place. In some places capital punishment is not allowed, like Britain, but it is legal in certain states in the US. Some argue that there is an absolute right to life and the taking of one cannot be justified, this is a categorical imperative, it is not based on the nature of the crime or the needs of society, but on the overriding principle of the value of human life. Others take the utilitarian view, the decision for the death penalty should come after balancing the loss of one criminal’s life against the cost to society for having him alive.

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