What is justice, and what is injustice?

What is justice, and what is injustice?

Ok, this is my discursive/expository essay and I get to start it however I like. I therefore choose to start it with Erin Brokovich. Don’t complain – I could have instead gone for Steven Seagal’s lemon Out For Justice, so really you should be thanking me! The 2000 Hollywood story of Erin Brokovich is based on a true court case in which the victims of water contamination successfully sued PG&E for damages amounting to $335 million dollars. The jury of the court found that the company was directly responsible for the serious and often fatal illnesses found throughout the community of Hinkley, and that the company had engaged in a systematic cover-up of both the causes and the effects of their industrial poisoning of the town. That the residents won their class action is an example of justice, which is nice because that way the film gets to have a happy ending.

The important consideration here is that for people to achieve such satisfaction is a result of justice. PG&E is a huge company and tough to beat, but when the facts of the case were presented in a court of law the poor, sick, uneducated people of Hinkley were justly defended. In civilised society people have rights that go a lot further than “Me and this big baseball bat I’ve got here would like you now to make a donation”, and justice is the act of defending those rights. The act of justice is punitive in that it ensures that those who break the law are judged and sentenced, and this act serves to compensate and protect the innocent. The classical virtues attributed to justice, as patently demonstrated in the case of Hinkley and PG&E, are those of equality, fairness, and punishment.

The obvious theatre of operation for justice is in a court of law, but it is hardly the only one. You don’t need a lawyer to hold your hand in life, and nor should you! Courts judge legal matters, and in criminal matters they do so retrospectively, but justice determines and defines the actions of society independently. Individuals generally have a sense of right and wrong with respect to the communal rights of each other; this concept of the “social contract” is such that people generally accept the laws of society in return for security and order. The social contract means I agree to drive within the boundaries of the defined road laws on the understanding that others will do the same, or at least that I accept the consequences of my actions as may be determined by the office of law. The office of law is applied through a multitude of functionaries, and includes police officers, government officials, tax office bureaucrats, school principals and teachers, doctors and nurses, employees of private institutions, local council workers and parking inspectors.

Things is, sometimes the people whom we think are supposed to look after us don’t do a very good job. See Rodney King in Wikipedia to consider some results of injustice. However, as I hope I have already indicated, it is not the job of only police or judges to administer justice but the role of all members of society. Though we are individuals we live in a community, and as part of the social contract we serve each other. Justice therefore is the duty of all.

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