"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

True Justice?

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A friend asked a question of a group of lawyers, “Is there something to which the law is subordinate?” (paraphrasing) I asked the same question to many of the legally-trained people I work with. In both cases the question was greeted with some confusion, scepticism, and I thought a little overtone of condescension. It was almost as if the question had been phrased in a foreign language, and was almost unintelligible to those hearing it (or it was such a silly question they couldn’t see themselves answering it).

I’ve pondered that question at some length as I write long tomes concerning the interpretation of legal language and how that acts to either help or not help someone coming in petition. More than once I’ve shaken my head and wondered what I’m doing, as it seems to almost be angels on a pin type of rationalizing…I’m aware of an old saying (where it is from I can’t recall), that the golden-tongued can repackage dung and make it seem like the greatest treasure. That is, as silly as it sometimes seems, the way our justice system works, and I remain involved with it because I remain convinced that it does more good than harm – while being far from perfect.

Reading a book on restorative justice, I came across a passage about a sexual abuse treatment program in place on a Manitoba First Nation called Hollow Water. This is written by Rupert Ross, a crown prosecutor, about his realization about why the Hollow Water program has such great success (the re-offence rate sounds like about 0.5 % which is unbelievable). The reason for that success is a distinctly traditional approach to offence, that relies more on the re-establishment of broken relationship that the controlled application of punishment (and I think the implicit understanding that in most cases in that community, sexual abusers are acting out their own abuse, and there remains inherent worth in that person).

The passage offers a perspective on that question – is the law subordinate to anything else? Ross suggests that the law may have begun in that mode, but has not become a self-supporting system where the primary goal is the very western idea of assessing offence and assigning punishment. While the laws may have had an initial moral foundation, they now are a moral structure unto themselves. So the reason the lawyer struggles with the question about the law’s place is because the law is taught to be an end unto itself, there is nothing else but the truth brought forth through judicial processes.

That sounds painfully close to the sorts of things Jesus said about the Pharisees and Sadducees who had lost the idea behind Torah (the law) and made Torah into a burden that crushed people, instead of a framework that freed them.

Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice, Rupert Ross, 2006, pp. 174-5

It is not our minds that hurt, not our intellects that experience pain, not our information-storage systems that are violated. Rather it is our hearts, our bodies and our spirits. Healing them must speak to them. Healing words must come from, draw pictures of and reach out for, the heart and spirit first, the mid second. The clearest example of this reliance on heart speaking comes from something I have already described about the healing circles at Hollow Water: the fact that they ask, “How do you feel?” not “What do you think?” It is not an accident, but a conscious choice based on a clear perception of the healing reality. Until I saw personally how it worked in those circles, I had no idea how much more powerful that feeling question is.

In the first place, it keeps everyone’s attention squarely on what’s most important about what we have done: its impact on other people. It is, after all, that impact that we are trying to understand and reverse within the healing process.

We seem to have taken a different path in the Western justice system. When we originally outlawed all kinds of things, I assume it was because we understood that they caused harm to others and to the fabric of society itself. Once we got our lists of all those unlawful things, however, we called them all ‘wrongs’, and things started to change. Somehow they became transformed into ‘wrongs-in-themselves.” Once that happened, we no longer had to pay much attention to why they were wrong, to the harm they caused. Instead, we could just deal in those absolutes o ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and discard any obligation to investigate and expose all the messy feelings that those acts inspired in all the people they touched.

It is the opposite at Hollow Water. The conviction seems to be that an offender cannot even know what he did until he begins to learn, first-hand and in a feeling way, how people were affected by it. As I mentioned earlier, the act itself fades into relative unimportance compared to its impact on the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of everyone it touched. The reliance on abstract terms like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is seen as a manoeuvre that just creates more distance from the reality of our acts. Instead, every effort is dedicated to putting offenders through processes where they cannot stay distant from the harm they have caused. They are not permitted to hide, as they can by simply going to jail. Instead, everything is aimed at making them actually feel some portion of the pain, grief, outrage, sorrow or other emotions that they have caused in others.


Written by sameo416

October 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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