The law, justice and national development (2)

JusticeTHE notion of justice derives from natural law and right reason. In the human consciousness, it belongs to ethics, to morality, and to good conscience.

Justice derives from the recognition of the common humanity and therefore equal dignity, sanctity and inviolability of all human persons.

Justice recognises that each human person has a worth or value that is not conferred on him or her by any state or institution, but that such worth or value is intrinsic or inherent.

This is why we speak of fundamental human rights as inviolable. That is to say that they are neither conferred, nor can they be taken away by earthly authority.

State laws do not confer, but only promote and protect the free exercise of these rights. Justice is rooted in the honest recognition and acceptance of this fundamental dignity and rights of each and every human person, as well as the concomitant commitment to render to everyone his or her due.

Our revered Jurist and former Justice of the Supreme Court, Chukwudifu Oputa of blessed memory, in a 1985 presentation titled, “Towards Justice with a human face,” declared that: “Justice is the attitude of mind that accepts that others – all others – are subject of rights in their own rights; that one’s own ego is not absolute; that one’s interests are related to the interests of others; that my own rights stop where my neighbour’s rights begin; that every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

In this simple concession that each deserves his own (scum cuique), the moral self comes to grips with the reality and value of other selves… We show what a person is worth by what we ultimately concede to him… if we deny persons justice, we have decided them worthless.”

Just and Unjust Laws This then introduces the concept of just versus unjust laws. Ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle says that law is order, and good law is good order.

Law and order indeed go together. They cannot be separated. This is why we regularly use the expression: “Law and order.” An unjust legal system could uphold an order, even if momentarily.

But such order is an unjust order. So when oppressive, exploitative or dictatorial regimes speak of “social order” they mean no more than “organised disorder,” or the dispensation of “stratified injustice.”

Yet even in societies that have a semblance of justice in their legal system, the law may be so skewed or badly administered that the resulting order becomes basically unjust. We recall St. Augustine’s famous dictum, that “kingdoms devoid of justice are nothing but a bunch of bandits or a gang of robbers.”

The role of lawyers Lawyers have been described as ministers in the temple of justice. The legal profession is classically understood as a helping profession, not just one other means of livelihood, much less an instrument for wealth accumulation.

The legal profession is in the western tradition perceived as a vocation, a divine calling, much like the medical profession or the priesthood.

Whereas the contractor, the business tycoon or the entrepreneur sets out as his or her fundamental objective to amass wealth, and he or she measures his or her success in terms of the amount of wealth and property he or she is able to accumulate in the course of time, the lawyer on the other hand is expected to be motivated by an all-consuming passion for the common good, for the promotion of a just and equitable social order, and especially for the protection of the poor and the weak against the excesses of the rich and powerful in society.

The lawyer is a custodian of civilisation. He or she is on a civilising mission in society. The lawyer is a freedom fighter after the fashion of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, our own Gani Fawehinmi and others.

In modern democracies, the lawyer is a leader in social change or social engineering, directing the course of social evolution towards greater justice for all, through regular engagement in law reform and social advocacy.

In a country like Nigeria where repeated military interventions in our political history have had a major corrosive effect on our democratic culture, where we have been left with such terrible legacies of injustice as the widespread public display of executive lawlessness, torture, brutality and extra-judicial killings at the hands of the police and other functionaries of the state, reckless looting of public resources by those entrusted with the common weal, arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention without trial of poor suspects, even for minor bail-able infractions, and the general culture of impunity in the land, the work of the lawyer is clearly cut out for him or her.

In a country that has had more than its fair share of notoriously corrupt and abusive leaders, the lawyer cannot be inattentive or indifferent.

Instead the lawyer must use his privileged learning and high standing in society as a minister in the temple of justice, to stand between the government and the citizens by resisting rights violations and abuses.

In a country like ours where in spite of our enormous natural endowments, the poor and their children are largely denied opportunities for good nourishment, quality education, decent housing, decent but affordable public transportation, and adequate healthcare, the lawyer must be at the forefront of social engineering through creative social change advocacy mechanisms.

Only bold affirmation of justice by lawyers on behalf of poor and helpless citizens can tear down the “organised disorder” that the political and economic elite have often erected around themselves in this country, and force them to submit to just, humane and democratic principles of governance.

• To be continued tomorrow • Rev. Fr. George EHUSANI Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, delivered this paper, The Role Of Law In The Promotion Of Justice And National Development at the 2015 Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, on August 24, 2015.

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