Saturday, 22 September 2012

The court will rise

"I don't get the paper anymore," she said, "there's too much bad news." And while I think she's just reading the wrong stories, I do understand where she's coming from. Open up any newspaper or blog and it seems there's yet another BAD guy doing BAD things to innocent people. Or there's a blow-by-blow account of the ensuing court case followed by public outrage at the leniency of the sentence.

"The judge got it wrong," we say. We expect better! Personally, I think I'd go nuts if I had to sit through that stuff day after day after day. From just a few visits as a press photographer, and the few juries I've sat on, I've got a lot of respect for our court reporters, court staff, juries and judges.

Let's face it, it must be a difficult job to administer the law, especially when Joe Public thinks it should reflect their opinion of the moment. We expect the letter of the law to be followed unless of course it's an occasion where we think the spirit of the law should prevail. It all depends on our own viewpoint, so what if we've only read the headlines and didn't actually attend the trial. Can't the judge ever get it right? The law should be changed!

We expect our justice system to be fair and reasoned and impartial. Laws should be well-written and easy to administer, with no loop-holes, without favour. We expect the punishment to fit the crime. We won't tolerate exceptions. But be honest, how many times do we just want revenge? "Do the crime, do the time," we say.

Until we find ourselves, or our family or friends, in the dock....

Not between two cops in front of a judge perhaps, but when we've made a mistake or we've been found out after intentionally and secretly breaking the rules. Do we really expect justice? Or do we plead for mercy.... given the extenuating circumstances... in the light of our normally good character... I didn't understand... I was provoked... no-one told me... it's been a hard day...

The difference of course is how close we are to the accused, and what we know of their background and past record. And what we think their motive was.

And there's the crunch. No-one can really know what's going on inside another person's head, yet that's what we expect from the court. It's not their job to make Joe Public happy. It's to form the right conclusion. To make the right decision. To hand down the right punishment.

And to set the innocent people free!

Quite frankly, I wouldn't be that keen to have you as my judge, any more than I'd want the responsibility of judging you and your motives. Only God really knows your heart. And the good news is, not only is he a judge but he's also the defence attorney.

I can't really say it any better than David who wrote the following  Psalm
"Bless the Lord, O my soul.... and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. 
"The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.... The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. 
"For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.... But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him... Bless the Lord, O my soul!"

(My emphasis added and abbreviated, read the full version here)
In short, I know who I'd want beside me the next time I find myself before the court. The challenge for me on a day-to-day basis is whether I'm prepared to extend the same grace to my fellow-man.

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