Image

” “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” is a Latin legal phrase which means “let justice be done though the heavens fall.” It signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of the consequences.”

Really?
Since when (rational) human beings do something (willingly and knowingly) without being interested in the outcome of their actions?

Let’s find a better interpretation!

I’ll start with Humboldt’s observation that the inner workings of a language are in strong connection with the way the native users of that language relate themselves to the world at large, observation that was later developed into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I find this important because it perfectly explains the fact that a translation will hardly ever be as explicit as the original, precisely because the interpreter needs to translate both the meaning of the text and the frame-mind of the writer.

Back to the Latin phrase.
The Romans were warriors, not literates, so they favored direct talk even if it was sometimes so direct as to become a puzzle. After all they were familiar with their own way of talking!
Take for instance ‘Ubi bene, ibi patria!’
Apparently it’s an immigrant’s motto: “Where there is good (prosperity), there is my fatherland (country), Wherever I prosper, there is my fatherland.”
Now what if there is a lot more to it?
Let’s remember first that the Romans, like the early Americans, were not immigrants but colonists. Quite a difference between these two notions, isn’t it?
So what if ‘Ubi bene, ibi patria’ has a slighter different meaning than the generally accepted one, like ‘if we arrived this far let’s make this place our home’? As in ‘if we’re stuck here at least let’s make this place comfortable’!

I think you already have a fair idea about what I’m trying to suggest but I’d like to explore the concept of ‘justice’ before going any further.
The English term “Justice” is related to two Latin words:
– “Jus” = 1. Law; 2. Right
 “Justitia”= 1. Equity, 2. Justice
In these conditions it is safe to say that ‘justice’ is not only about the rule of law but also about the congruence between the behavior of an individual and his social status. Simply by having said that I got a lot nearer to ‘why on Earth do we care so much about justice?’.

Without justice the social fabric, the spider’s net that keeps us from wandering aimlessly through time, would simply disappear. Direct interactions between (no longer human) individuals would be governed exclusively by brute force and indirect relations would no longer exist.

And this was common knowledge since the dawn of time. Shortly after learning how to speak people have started to teach their children: “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you”. And one of the reasons people invented writing was for them to be able to pass that rule over and over across generations.

About the same time justice started to be ‘administered’. People no longer relied solely on their muscles to defend themselves, if they felt they had been mistreated they could raise the problem before the common gathering of the tribe or before the ruler of the place. And both of these instances would take swift action since none of them had any interest in things escalating any further, friends or relatives of those involved to take sides and the situation to degenerate into open conflict between sections of the community.

In order for a ‘sentence’ to be effective it has to be both just (according to the rules) and pertinent (according to the reality).
In practical terms before punishing somebody for stealing you need to have in place a rule stating clearly what constitutes an ‘act of stealing’, the penalty for purporting such an act, to have sufficient proof that the act has been committed and by whom; otherwise the whole enterprise would defeat its purpose since it would be perceived as arbitrary: a proof that the rule of law no longer operates, the new rule is ‘free for all’ and that individuals are no longer members of a society but hapless constituents of a mob.

I find it extremely significant that some the most democratic nations had, for long periods of time, and quite a few of them still have something called ‘judgement by peers’. This way not only the accused doesn’t find himself at the mercy of the ruler of the land, or one of its ‘henchmen’, but also the general public is assured that no monkey business is taking place during the final stage of the judicial process. (NB, judges might have had their powers ‘vested in them by God’ but they were, and still are, vetted by those in power at a given moment).

But the main difference between a jury trial and a bench trial is that while jurors receive strict orders from the judge that they have to be convinced ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ before passing a ‘guilty’ decision, it is in the very nature of a judge’s job to interpret the law. And it is here where ‘fiat justitia, ruat caelum’ comes into play.
The classic ‘translation’ of this is that “justice must be realized regardless of the consequences” and this interpretation may ‘help’ a judge to pass a verdict one way or another just because he, personally, is ‘satisfied’ with the evidence presented to him and he feels that he has reached the just decision.
Maybe a more useful interpretation would be ‘be careful when dispensing justice otherwise the heavens will fall upon your head’.
Not in the mundane sense that you, personally, would have to suffer the consequences of your decisions but that you, the judge, have contributed – by twisting the due course of justice – to the weakening of the entire society. And by doing so you have brought great danger upon us all.

PS.

Here is another thing about ‘justice’ that is not exactly as conventional wisdom has it.
The blindfold that sometimes adorns the representations of Lady Justice is not so much a symbol of its impartiality and more a sign that she is going to (or at least should) ignore the ‘bribes’ being offered to her.

I, personally, prefer a ‘justice’ that is fully aware of what is going around her so that she might have as much pertinent information as possible at her disposal when reaching a decision.