Equal Justice in the Criminal Justice System

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Every western nation, including the United Kingdom, embraces the principle of equality before the criminal justice system and the law in general. There is consensus around the fact that the criminal justice system should express no favouritism on the basis of factors like socioeconomic status, race, and other characteristics. Unjust treatment within the corridors of justice is one of the major social issues that need to be addressed. Arguments about fairness and justice have a long history within the western democracy. The idea of justice and fairness within the criminal justice system has more often than not been linked to the principles of morality and ethics. Justice has been regarded as a central and key component of morality. Justice and fairness generally refer to giving individuals what they deserve. Justice, in particular, refers to the standard of rightness while fairness is the capacity to pass judgments that are not general in nature but those that are specific to a certain case. Fairness is also the capacity to make a judgment without referring to a person’s interests or emotions. This paper will offer a critical analysis on why the criminal justice system should treat everyone equally without regard to characteristics like skin colour and social status.

One of the overarching principles of justice and fairness in the criminal system is that equals should always be judged equally while unequal’s unequally. In other terms, individuals in the criminal justice system should always be judged in the same way, unless they are different in a manner that is important to the situation. For example, if Daniel and Mark have committed the same offence or are doing the same work, they should be handed the same sentence or paid the same wages because there are no important differences between their offences or the work they are doing. However, if Daniel is handed a less sentence or is paid higher wages than Mark because he is white, that amounts to discrimination because race has no relevance in the offence committed or the work done. In such a case, the judge has no justifiable ground to treat Daniel and Mark differently.

The idea of fairness in the criminal justice system can be traced back to the principles of interdependence, social stability and equal dignity. The stability of a community or a society depends so much on the extent to which individual members of that particular society or any community for that matter are being handled fairly and justly (Taxman & Byrne, 2005). When there is a feeling that some members are being treated unequally, whether the feelings are based on facts or perception, it lays the groundwork for social disturbance and unrest. The members of any community or society depend on each for survival. his social unity or inclusivity will only be retained if people feel they are being treated fairly and that the institutions like the criminal justice system are to a larger extend fair. All human beings are equal. However, if individuals are treated unequally based on characteristics that are arbitrary and bare no relevance to the case in question this amounts to a violation of human dignity (Taxman & Byrne, 2005).

In evaluating any judgment in the criminal justice system, it should be considered whether individuals are being treated fairly and justly. If this is not the case, it should be determined if the difference in treatment is justified based on criteria that is relevant to the case. Nonetheless, fairness in the criminal justice system is the recognition and expression of individual’s basic dignity and recognition that if people live together in communities that are interdependent they must treat each as equals (Taxman & Byrne, 2005). Judgments in the criminal justice system are only considered to be just and fair if they take in account relevant factors like the seriousness of a criminal offence and the intention of the offender and disregard irrelevant factors like race or social status. For instance, it will unjust to impose a death penalty on an individual for stealing a dime. Studies have shown that black pleople are more likely to receive punitive sentences than whites despite committing the same criminal offences. This suggests that unfairness still exists in the criminal justice system in nations like the United Kingdom (Taxman & Byrne, 2005).

The criminal justice system plays a fundamental role in keeping communities safe by incarcerating violent offenders. The system cracks down on systemic problems like drug and human trafficking that endanger the very foundation of our communities. However, more often than not the justice system fails the test of equal justice for all as prescribed in the law. According to article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual has the right to be treated equally and protected under the law (Burch, 2015).

Soaring prison numbers are being triggered by lack of fairness in the criminal justice system and unjust laws and policies. Instead of just focusing on punishing offenders, the criminal justice system needs to assist people to become responsible members of an inclusive society. The government needs to establish a criminal justice system that is adaptive and ensure fair outcomes for all regardless of factors like race and socioeconomic status (Crutchfield et al., 2010).

Equality and fairness in the face of law is a fundamental aspect of the legal justice system. Before judicial officers assume office, they swear to treat everyone without fear, favour or ill will. Judicial officers must thus treat every party without discrimination of any form or shape based on criteria like race, gender, and social status (Burch, 2015). Courtesy and respect are also hallmarks of the criminal justice system. Patronizing attitudes or behaviours should not have a place in the criminal justice system. To make sure that there is equity and fairness in the criminal justice system, judicial officers should be aware of any potential prejudices against people from different backgrounds and actively seek mechanisms to neutralize them. They also need to avoid making assumptions about others based on their personal beliefs and values (Burch, 2015).

The United Kingdom’s legal system upholds the principles of fairness, access to justice, and transparency. The laws exist to facilitate the efficient functioning of a society and not to obstruct it. The law regulates activities and difficult interaction between individuals or institutions. The main objective is to help individuals to live dignified lives and achieve or realize their ambitions as much as possible. To realize this objective, it is necessary to establish proper infrastructure and institutions. Part of the infrastructure includes ensuring that all laws conform to some minimum requirements. All laws must obey to the common law. Common law sets out specific rights and liberties that should be protected (Warner, 2012).

For the criminal justice system to be viewed as effective and fair, it requires the trust and the engagement of the entire community. The existence or perception of unfairness within the system erodes public confidence and trust (Fineman, 2010). An independent and objective criminal justice system must do everything within its powers to counter the existence or perception of bias and unfairness. There is very limited room for complacency on a critical topic as this. The criminal justice system should commit itself to uprooting disproportion in the administration of justice within the system (Fineman, 2010).

Tackling injustices within the larger society begins with having a credible and fair criminal justice system. Any disparities within the system like racial disparities undermine the credibility of the system. Inequality holds back minority groups (Sammy, 2017). This prevents collective communities from attaining their full potential. There is no sense in expecting the criminal justice system to solve social ills in the society when the solutions lie in issues like better parental supervision, proper mental health care, and providing better economic opportunities for the people.

Justice is at the centre of every democratic society. It simply implies that the law must apply equally to every individual and that everyone has the right to fair and transparent trial. Anyone should be able to bring a legal dispute before a fair and independent tribunal and challenge any actions that seriously affect them (Davies et al., 2005). These fundamental principles of justice have been developing during a period of over 100 years. In the determination of a criminal judge, every individual is entitled to a fair hearing done within a favourable time by an independent and impartial tribunal set forth by the law (Davies et al., 2005). Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights presents a set of rights applied to a criminal defendant including the presumption of innocence and the right for representation by a qualified and professional lawyer. Some of the criminals are denied access to legal aid because they cannot afford it. In the UK, for instance, the exceptional case funding that was supposed to provide legal services to those in need but has failed to deliver on its mandate. The UK founding document Magna Carta clearly state: “We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.”

The criminal justice system is a complex institution which in theory is supposed to treat individuals from all walks of life fairly and equally. Whether a person is a victim or suspect, they are supposed to be subjected to the same processes and have the same rights. However equal and fair treatment in the criminal justice system is not always guaranteed. There are many biases within the system that originate from prejudices and stereotypes that have deep roots within the society and culture.


Davies, M., Croall, H., & Tyrer, J. (2005). Criminal justice: An introduction to the criminal justice system in England and Wales. Pearson Education.

Fineman, M. A. (2010). The vulnerable subject: Anchoring equality in the human condition. In Transcending the Boundaries of Law (pp. 177-191). Routledge-Cavendish.

Warner, K. (2012). Equality before the law and equal impact of sanctions: doing justice to differences in wealth and employment status. Oxford University Press

Sammy, D. (2017). Bias against ethnic minorities ’needs to be tackled’ in justice system. BBC.

Burch, T. (2015). Skin colour and the criminal justice system: Beyond black‐white disparities in sentencing. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 12(3). DOI: 10.1111/jels.12077

Taxman, F. S., & Byrne, J. M. (2005). Racial disparity and the legitimacy of the criminal justice system: exploring consequences for deterrence. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 16(4), 57-77. DOI: 10.1353/hpu.2005.0119

Crutchfield, R. D., Fernandes, A., & Martinez, J. (2010). Racial and ethnic disparity and criminal justice: How much is too much. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 100(3), 903-932. Retrieved from https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=7366&context=jclc

December 12, 2023

Crime Law

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