In spite of being so strongly rooted in law and its related disciplines, the concept of justice continues to be elusive primarily because it belongs to both morality and law and at times the two may clash. Initially justice was related to religion; peopled lived and died in the hope of divine justice and equity. But man’s concern and involvement with the earthly temporal laws necessitated the formation of rules for the administration of authority and to help maintain law and order.
Ordinarily justice should be viewed in its double capacity as reward for the good and obedient and punishment for the deviant but unfortunately right from the beginning of human society it has been associated with retributive or punitive punishment. Amongst the ancient Greeks the Greek goddess Nemesis was the goddess of vengeance. This one sided view of justice is also there because the wronged and the deprived clamor for it. Francis Bacon was wise enough to see this; he once commented that revenge is “a kind of wild justice”. But one must realize that this is not the only function of justice and men should see it only in relation to their wrongs.
It is difficult to identity law with justice. There may be times when the law may be strict and unfair or may not cater to the exception. It may not cater to the human emotions involved and the legal justice may appear to be very lopsided to the ordinary viewer. For example the take case of Shylock extracting his pound of flesh from Antonio in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice”.
In this case. the law is being used for vindictiveness and not justice. It is the occasion of Portia’s famous speech about justice and mercy where she says “earthly power doth then show likes[ God’s when mercy seasons justice”. And even the law recognizes the place of mercy as the innumerable interpretation of the same law leads one to believe. Shylock clamors loudly for justice but when the bond is interpreted literally as a pound of Rash and no more and no less, and without a drop of blood, he waives his claim. Thus justice is for him a one-sided concept.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is the old punitive concept for justice rising out of anger, helplessness and the longing for revenge. This is not justice; it is merely retaliation and does not achieve much for the past cannot he undone. It is true that in some cases it may act as a deterrent for men are deterred by fear of punishment. Men of the legal profession and psychologists are increasingly of the view that due attention should be paid to the factors and the pressures which may have influenced the behavior of the culprit.