Justice – definition:  just behaviour or treatment

a concern for justice, peace and genuine respect for people’

Oxford English Dictionary 

A common belief is that a civilised society designs systems by which justice can be delivered and injustice punished as a mark of ‘genuine respect for people’.  Administrative law is just such a system created to protect citizens from the abuse of government power. It operates through courts, tribunals, ombudsmen and commissions with access via a complaint process which must first be followed according to the stages laid down. Given that there is a pre-determined right to justice in our civilised society why is it that the pursuit of justice is a lengthy and soul-destroying fight? [1]

Who are we fighting and why is it so difficult to win?

Public confidence.

Some countries are totalitarian states. Despotic rulers dictate to the citizens and any opposition is brutally suppressed. You know where you stand in these regimes and there is no clamour for ‘justice’ just an acceptance of the status quo.  We don’t act in this way in the UK. We are a democracy and operate through legislation devised for the benefit of the public with state-funded regulatory bodies to hold public servants to account. That at least is the given narrative but in fact, UK democracy relies not on the actual delivery of rights but on ‘public confidence’ that this is the case. It is vital that people believe themselves to be safe and believe that those with authority over them are benign (possibly inept but not deliberately malicious).  Public confidence works best when we have shared values so the importance of concepts such as justice, truth and honesty are reinforced through family, education and religion from an early age. Believing in such notions becomes so fundamental to our health and well-being that we will deny or dismiss actual evidence to the contrary until we experience injustice first-hand. Which is helpful to those in positions of power who are required to ‘restore public confidence’when some unfortunate scandal seeps into the public domain. Restoring public confidence should not be confused with putting things right. Public inquiries rarely put things right but they defuse the heat of the moment with words of regret and sweeten the future with the promise that ‘lessons will be learnt’.

Twitter – an angry pool of justice seekers.

Twitter is awash with people calling for justice. They will explicitly use the word ‘justice’ to head up their campaigns and it is clear that they expect the state to deliver on their promise. By the time they turn to Twitter they have found that the official complaint process has failed to deliver anything which looks like justice,  in fact, it has likely delivered the very opposite with hostile attacks aimed at discrediting the victim in order to defend public organisations from reputational damage. Our ingrained belief in the notion of justice has not prepared us for this shock and many never recover their emotional and physical health as a result. We are convinced, because we have evidence of wrongdoing, that we have a right to justice and when it is not forthcoming we reach out far and wide to find the one person, the one authority who can deliver it. The state rhetoric of justice is so pervasive that it can take many, many years to accept that justice will never be forthcoming no matter how strong the evidence or how great the determination.  It is a bitter pill to swallow and it requires a re-evaluation of our core beliefs in a most painful way.

Accountability theatre. 

What if ‘justice’ doesn’t exist? What if it is nothing more than a social construct which has been instrumental in ensuring public confidence and thereby public compliance with rules and regulations? Is there any evidence to support such a theory? Historically there is a plethora of gross injustice to choose from where the powerful take unhindered advantage of the powerless.  The first to spring to mind is slavery, which allowed a select group to build fortunes from free labour and the continued discrimination along ethnic lines which remains with us today. Then there are the Inclosure Acts [2] which gave the rich the right to take and own common land; an aspect of history often neglected in the school curriculum. The subjugation of women is an injustice which blights over 50% of the population. Women were denied the right to vote through 40 years of peaceful campaigning and there has been a continual fight for equal pay and opportunity since. It is interesting to note that although the Suffragettes are said to have ‘won the vote’ for women the change in policy came at the end of the first world war when women had proven to be both essential and cost-effective in the workplace.  More recent injustices would include Hillsborough and Gosport where campaigning families have sacrificed years of their lives to reveal the truth about the way in which their loved ones died and who are now raising funds to fight their own court cases and relive the trauma all over again.  (Why isn’t the state doing this on their behalf?)

Campaigning for justice involves the powerless taking on the powerful with nothing more than

‘the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play’.

But when ‘truth’ is a matter of interpretation and British fair play is nothing more than a cover for colonialism then, just as Jonathan Aitken discovered, they prove to be sadly lacking. In contrast, those who benefit from maintaining the status quo hold much more valuable weapons such as possession of the most damning evidence which must be prised from their hands and can be redacted beyond use; unlimited funds for legal representation from the public purse; the ability to interpret the rules and regulations in whatever way they see fit; the knowledge that other organisations will follow their lead to provide circular assurance that no wrongdoing has occurred; complex legal processes designed to be in their favour; the silence of the media and lack of opposition from the academics.

We are fighting a faceless establishment (just who is pulling the strings?) and it is so difficult to win because each time they lose they rewrite the rulebook to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  But it would be foolish of them to win all the time – that would most certainly give the game away. At the present time, about 65% of people feel there is no point in complaining. Without a few victories for the little guy this figure would be much higher and public confidence would take a significant hit. So, every now and again a campaigner breaks through and is honoured for their ‘brave fight’ and applauded for their ‘determination’ and ‘selflessness’ in the common good. These select few can then be used like trophies to prove that campaigning is a worthy cause.  This is no more than accountability theatre and delivers a cruel blow to those still suffering who have just as much fight, just as much determination and just as much right to justice.  They are left swimming round in the angry pool of authoritarian control as new fish are added daily by a bureaucratic system which has no intention of delivering justice but knows how important it is to pretend that they do.



A public information service

[1] Sara Ryan’s blog ‘mydaftlife’ – a case study in British justice.


[2] Inclosure Acts