How Affordable Is Justice To The Common Man?

From my early days as a child, I loved seeing lawyers, magistrates and judges. The regalia of the bar and the bench had always excited me.

At one time I desired being a lawyer. But having an uncle that eventually became a judge and cousins that are lawyers sort of compensated my not reading law in the university. Though I do have a couple of friends that are lawyers, I do most times visit the courts to watch proceedings.

That is the only place (the court) where you see most lawless individuals turn a new leaf. They seem to hide their lawlessness for as long as they are within the court premises. It is also widely believed that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man to get justice.

One thing that had always caught my attention is the symbol of justice. I have always seen the symbol in some lawyers’ chambers, their homes and the court premises.

The symbol – a common representation of justice is a blind folded woman holding a set of scales. Some said it is the symbol of the goddess of Justice. The Roman goddess of justice was called ” Justitia” and was often portrayed as evenly balancing both scales and a sword and wearing a blindfold. She was sometimes portrayed holding the fasces (a bundle of rods around an ax symbolizing judicial authority) in one hand and a flame in the other (symbolizing truth).

To the ancient Greeks, the goddess of justice was known as ‘Themis’, originally the organizer of the “communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies”. Themis was the personification of justice, the goddess of wisdom and good counsel and the interpreter of the gods’ will.

Her ability to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the oracles at Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the goddess of divine justice. Classical representations of Themis did not show her blindfolded (because of her talent for prophecy, she had no need to be blinded) nor was she holding a sword (because she represented common consent, not coercion). According to some sources, she was the daughter of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). She maintained order and supervised ceremonies.

She was a giver of oracles and one legend relates that she once owned the oracle at Delphi but later gave it to Apollo. She was and still is represented as a woman of sober appearance carrying the scales of justice and a sword as a symbol of justice enforcement.
The origin of the Goddess of justice goes back to antiquity. She was referred to as Ma’at by the ancient Egyptians and was often depicted carrying a sword with an ostrich feather in her hair (but no scales) to symbolize truth and justice.

The term magistrate is derived from Ma’at because she assisted Osiris in the judgment of the dead by weighing their hearts. Looking at the historical background of the symbol of justice, one is pushed to look at it from the present look of things in the judicial system. I have often seen the judicial process as an exclusive reserve of the elite. It is said that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. But how close or affordable is the judicial process to the common man?

It is said that if you close your eyes because you do not want to see evil, that good would also pass by unnoticed by you. Whenever I look at the blindfolded woman, I am always pushed to think. May be she was blind-folded not to see evil or be partial in judgment. May be for her not to see faces and leave others to judge based on the side her scale swings to.

I do not know whether you have taken time to think in that direction. But it had always given me thoughts, which was part of the reason I had to write this. In some countries, you would be pushed to think that the woman was blind-folded not to see what is happening at all or that her scale had been removed because dispensation of justice seemed to favour the elite and left little or no hope for the common man. In those places the common man cannot afford the legal fees of learned gentlemen and the elite who can get best-learned ladies or gentlemen win most of their suits.

In most military regimes, the woman is not just blind-folded but blinded and her scales removed completely. It is said that the woman is the weaker sex or vessel. I don’t know if this is also true with the woman and her scale most times. I have often wondered whether bail conditions are not weighed on her scale. The imprisonment, options of fine or bail conditions for the common man most of the time looks absurd. A man who cannot afford three square meals will get a sentence with conditions he cannot meet even if he has to sell all his possessions.

If we really want to decongest our prisons, we should look at the way and manner we handle the scale in that woman’s hand. We may need to remove the blind-fold on that woman in Nigeria. Judicial investigations are never completed. The deaths of Dele-Giwa, Bola Ige, Alfred Rewane and many others need to be unraveled by the judicial investigations and judicial panels of enquiry.

The Niger Delta crisis erupted because all along we have been very much interested in the milk and not the cow. We also need to check our sense of judgment as a people. The judicial processes need to be reviewed along with some clauses in our constitution.

Our magistrates and judges would need to check the way they go about giving judgment so that our prisons would not be full of the common people who cannot meet bail conditions or options of fine.

The scale of the judiciary should not be seen to tilt or sway only the way of the elite. The symbol of justice should represent justice in our nation and not portray the judicial system as an exclusive reserve of the elite. Let equity, justice and rule of law prevail here in Nigeria!

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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