Voices from Eurasia
A symbolic change: Time to rebrand justice?
10 Apr 2015 by Lucio Valerio Sarandrea, Chief Technical Advisor on Rule of Law, UNDP Kyrgyzstan
Justice is often symbolized as a blindfolded woman holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.
I believe this symbol contributes to the ongoing perception that justice is closely linked with coercion.
In line with global efforts to ensure access to justice, I would like to suggest looking for a new symbol that can better convey these principles.
Time and again, I have conducted small experiments with many people from diverse backgrounds – including teenagers, university students, lawyers, journalists and pensioners. Most commonly relate the concept of justice to prison bars, handcuffs, or police officers.
Many witty answers focus on the blindfolding.
Once a student joked that Lady Justice would hopefully hit with the sword only after taking off the cover on her eyes. Somebody else quipped that she would be peeping the whole time through the blindfold.
A bit of history
The origins of the symbol are not fully known, but most experts agree that it originates with the Egyptian Goddess Maat - whose first representation goes back over 4,300 years.
Looking at the picture, we can notice a scepter in her right hand – a sign of power. There is an ankh in her left hand as a symbol of eternal life, and the feather symbolizing the weight of truth on top of her head.
Only a few centuries later, the picture of justice takes the form of the Greek Goddess Themis - an image much closer to the typical icon of justice as its known today. It is a few more centuries before we have it: the Roman Goddess of Justice, Iustitia.
While the picture remains effectively the same, we can see the introduction of the blindfold – representing objectivity – which becomes progressively more commonplace towards the end of the Middle Ages.
All of these observations lead me to the following questions:
● When we want to make justice more accessible, do we really want to put people closer to a blindfolded lady with a sword?
● Objectivity, weighing of parties, and coercion: Is this all justice is about in today’s world? Is this an accurate personification of justice?
I do not believe that writing a comprehensive definition of justice is possible. Justice is a concept which belongs more to the so-called Natural law upon which the State is built on.
Still, I do think that justice should also mean, at a minimum, the following:
● Equal access to opportunities for women and men
● Accessible schooling for youth with disabilities
● Access to information for all when it comes to human rights – and assistance in ensuring those rights are protected
● Assistance and protection for witnesses during trial
● Ability to safely and legally challenge decisions made by the State when a citizen believes them to be unjust
This list can of course be much longer, including the right to have somebody punished after a fair trial.
However, justice is much more than the “instinctive” criminal enforcement side; justice should be for helping, rather than punishing; protection, rather than threats.
So, let’s start making a shift, and facilitating the access to justice by portraying it in a more friendly and conducive manner.
Let’s ask people to rebrand justice, to propose pictures, to visualize the change from coercion to help and protection.
My two cents is that justice should look like a woman with open arms, to help, protect and withhold with force – only when necessary.