Forms and Theories of Justice

Justice means that no person within a particular society should be treated unfairly. That will bring unhappiness.

Historically, man has been searching for justice, a set of principles which if followed, will bring happiness to the society.

(a) Plato’s Equitable Equality Theory
Plato stated that as people are not equal, the demand of justice that people should be treated equally, can be met only by treating them equitably.  Therefore, equality has to be in accordance with a person’s station in life. If a person has a natural inclination to be a leader, then he should be made a leader; but if a person is naturally weak, then he should not complain that he is not chosen as a leader. 

It is Plato’s view that it would better for such a weak person, in his own interest, not to be foisted with leadership.  That would be injustice.  

(b) Aristotle’s Distributive-Corrective Justice Theory
Aristotle (Plato’s disciple) also stated that justice was equality but he postulated that the things of this world ought to be equitably distributed and that such distribution be maintained by law for justice to be attained. What is meant here is that every person is entitled to certain rights and justice demands that such rights be equitably bestowed on such person, and that consequently, that person’s right thereto, be respected.  The mention of equity here suggests allusion to agreement with the basic theory of Plato. 

His theory is two-folds – 

(i) distributive justice which is “meted out by the legislature” in the distribution of offices, rights, honours and goods to the members of the society according to the principle of proportionate equality.  This means that the legislature should make laws that detail the safeguards of the guaranteed rights of the citizens, e.g. the right to own property.

(ii) The second is corrective justice. This aspect of justice ensures that what has been distributed must not be disturbed. There must be certainty of status for the society to remain stable, which is not possible in a state of anomie. It therefore guarantees, protects and maintains against illegal attacks, what has been distributed in the first category. The protection of human rights in the various republican constitutions today (such as the ones in the USA and Nigeria’s Constitution) as well as the criminal codes and tort laws can be traced to Aristotle’s contribution to the theory of justice.  

(c) Spencer’s Theory of Negative Freedom
Herbert Spencer states that justice is freedom for any man to do as he wishes provided it does not infringe the equal freedom of another. He states that in the original condition of man, freedom was absolute but with the increasing population and need for aggregation of people particularly in cities, absolution freedom cannot be justice any more.

Balancing one person’s freedom with another person’s freedom is called “Negative Freedom”. This qualification (restriction) of freedom is necessary for a smooth society and gregarious living. 

(d) Rawl’s Objective Justice
There is now a challenge as to whether substantial justice itself is a satisfactory proposition. Leading this argument is Professor John Rawls of Harvard University, USA.  According Rawls, in the originally, every man was entitled to equal rights, liberties and opportunities and that the State has to look into and improve the conditions of the least advantaged groups in order to bring them up to equal levels with others. It is only by doing so that fairness can be guaranteed. 

The principle behind Communism embraces a part of this thinking, where the central theory is that the wealth of the State belongs to all citizens and that even the weak ought to be guaranteed the basic amenities of life as an incidence of being a member of the community.

Business Law

Forms of Justice

Law is always aimed at delivering justice. But strict administration of law may often bring about injustice, thus defeating the very purpose of the existence of law itself.  To solve this problem, the principles of equity were developed to assist in using the law to administer justice. Whenever any provision of the law is invoked in an unconscionable manner to oppress a citizen, equitable remedies are available to temper the harsh provisions of the law. This is why modern courts would like to be seen as courts of justice rather than courts of law. We shall see the details of this later on when we shall discuss law and equity.

Justice can be categorized into formal justice and substantial justice, as follows:

Formal Justice
Formal justice means justice according to law. The law should be administered impartially because it is no respecter of persons. Thus, when a case is decided and the rights of the parties are determined according to the applicable law, impartially and without fear or favour, we can say confidently that formal justice has been delivered. This implies that there is no discrimination of any kind since law is no respecter of persons.  

But it must be noted that what formal justice means is that all persons of the same category are subjected to the same legal rule uniformly.  The law still makes a distinction between person and person and between thing and thing, based on their capacity, nature and characteristics. For example, the law of crime takes into consideration the mental capacity of the suspected criminal.

This is because the law that treats unequals equally denies equality just like the law that treats equals unequally. Though it is often said that law is blind, Lady Justice is not really blind; she is only blind-folded. 

In appropriate cases, she lifts her blindfold to peek, to see that the justice she dispenses without fear or favour, is also dispensed judiciously and equitably according to the relative positions of the parties.

Substantial Justice
If the rule of law is in conformity with the higher values thus selected by society, then the rule is said to have provided for substantial justice, and therefore, a greater proportion of the members of that society would be satisfied.  

Rule of Law; Nigerian Legal System

Features of the Nigerian Legal System

1. The courts have one continuous hierarchy, meaning that an appeal from the smallest court in a state can end up ultimately in the Supreme Court, which is a federal court. This judicial arrangement undermines the Federal structure which the country declares to uphold as far as the executive and legislative arms of government are concerned. 

2. Another aspect of the judicial system that undermines the federal structure is the use of a common Evidence Act across the country as the basis of proof of facts and presumptions of law.

3. Another characteristic of the Nigerian legal system is that it is primarily based on the English law. Although Nigeria had its various customary laws before colonization, its indigenous laws were made subject to the English law upon colonization.

The various High Court Acts (which set up the various High Courts) provide that where there is a conflict between the received English Law and the customary laws of the people of Nigeria, the provisions of the English law prevails to the extent of such conflict.  

4. The High Court Laws also provide that even where there is no conflict between English laws and the customary laws but the judge feels that the customary laws are “repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience”, the judge should void them (the Repugnancy Test). 

5. Another characteristic of the Nigerian legal system is that Nigeria operates the adversarial system of justice, whereby the accused person in criminal matter and the defendant in the civil matter are considered innocent of the complaint until they are proved guilty or proved to be liable as the case may be.