For most of my lifetime in the UK, where I am based, we have had one system of justice: the Law.
It’s taken us centuries to get from witch burning to where we are today, and it’s not perfect yet but it is authorised by our democratic parliament. We vote for candidates, the majority party forms a government and proceeds to debate Bills and turn them into Acts. Acts of Parliament form the Statute; a body of law that the police are required to enforce, the Justice system is required to judge, convict and pronounce sentences, which the prison and probation services are required to deliver. There is a ‘due process’: a person is charged with an offence, a hearing is scheduled in which both prosecution and defence get to present their cases, there is a judgment and sentencing, with a sanction for the guilty.
Then along came the internet.
Social media has given an opportunity to opinionated people to set up alternative justice systems. They can create unofficial online jurisdictions that cover the entire process from beginning to end. They can undemocratically promote themselves to act as prosecution, police, judge, jury and jailers all in one. Defence doesn’t get a look in. This is a dogmatists’ charter.They can accept allegations as true without question. They can ignore the traditional process and shortcut directly to punishment, for example, in the form of ‘no-platforming’, which is a variety of denial of free-speech. This is not justice.
Victims, who may be innocent in the eyes of the law, can have their lives ruined by rumour. This is not justice.
We’ve seen all of this before. At its worst, in the Southern US states it was called Jim Crow law; in Europe it was known as witch-hunting. Today we call them Social Justice Warriors: the twenty-first century version of mob-rule. This is not justice.
The nature of the internet means that a small number of unforgiving people who are certain in their own ‘righteousness’ can shout with the volume of a megaphone to the vast, but silent, majority of the population. This is not justice.
Yes, our current system of justice is not perfect, but the way to improve it is to campaign for changes to the law, not to disobey it; that way only risks getting locked up…
Let’s get back to one single, authorised, jurisdiction as soon as possible.
Pic by Wikimedia Commons