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Criminal Justice Cannot Be Achieved in The Absence of Social Justice


The term justice is elusive and its meaning varies from person to person. It can change in different circumstances and can be quite personal in nature. It is often interchanged with the term fairness. All people want that they should be treated fairly and all have a different version of fairness (Ministry of Justice, 2010). It is the responsibility of society to set laws, moral codes, sanctions, and expectations to ensure that justice is provided to the masses. Social justice and criminal justice are the two main examples through which society accomplishes the goal.

Social justice can be defined as the just and fair relationship between society and individuals. It is an overarching concept that is concerned about what is fair and unfair, right and wrong (Young, Adamou and Asherson, 2011). The concept of fairness and correctness are applied in society by the principle of equality or equal opportunity of social justice. It is the proper and fair law administration that is in conformity with the natural law which states that all persons should be treated equally irrespective of their ethnic origin, religion, race, possessions, gender, etc. There should be no prejudice on the basis of all these factors.

It assigns the duties and rights in the institutions of society so that basic benefits and burdens of cooperation can be provided to the people. These institutions generally consist of public health, taxation, public school, public insurance, public services, market regulations and labor law which ensures that the wealth is fairly distributed; there is equality of outcome and equal opportunities (Van Ness and Strong, 2014). For example – equal employment opportunities, welfare programs, free public education, universal right to vote, etc. It is a vast concept and encompasses equal social, economic and political rights and opportunities.

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Criminal justice is determined as the system of institutions and practices of the government that are directed to uphold social control, mitigation and deterrent of crimes, or sanctioning criminal penalties and efforts for rehabilitation on those who violate laws. The main aim of the criminal justice system is to deliver justice by punishing and convicting the guilty and helping them stop offenses so that innocent people can be protected. There are mainly five components of the criminal justice system – enforcement of the law, attorneys for the defense, prosecution, corrections and courts (Reisig, Tankebe and Mesko, 2014). All these components play a cardinal role in the process of criminal justice.

Although criminal justice and social justice are two different aspects yet they are deeply interrelated with each other. Criminal justice is a subset of social justice which is applicable when there is a violation of principles of fair and unfair, right and wrong according to criminal law. It is a specific category of social justice and is determined as what is right and fair in the opinion of culture in accordance with the criminal law. Social justice may be inadequate in complex and large societies that have diversified cultures, behaviors and religions (Shaw, Waldorf, and Hazan, 2010). Criminal justice is based on more stringent and quantitative codes that evolve in the form of laws. The objective of both social justice and criminal justice is to establish control over wrong, unjust or offensive actions that are threatening to the rights of other people in society.

It is correctly said that criminal justice cannot be achieved without social justice. Both these justice systems are complementary and go hand in hand. The criminal justice is linked with the wider notions of fairness and equity which are the main principles of social justice. This can be proved with a simple example – when a person is proved to be guilty of certain crimes and held for punishment in the court of law then, it does not matter whether that person is a millionaire or celebrity or any other guy on the street. Both of them would be given the same sentence irrespective of any other factors (Cashmore, 2010). If in the given example, a court has given punishment to the poor guy and not the millionaire, then, it would be unfair treatment and people would not trust law and follow it which will lead to failure of all laws that are made for the welfare of society and nation as a whole. Thus, it can be rightly stated that in the absence of social justice, the purpose of criminal justice will fail.

The main principle of any legislation is that all are equal in the eyes of law. People cannot be discriminated on the basis of their caste, religion, language, gender, employment or any such factors in the court of law. The main aim of any law is to provide justice to innocent and punishment to the guilty and for this it is imperative that all are treated equally. The importance of social justice in criminal justice is deeply rooted in the concepts of formation of law which were formed with an intention to provide justice to the person who was deprived of his basic rights and needs.

Human beings are social animals who live in society and use resources for their fulfillment of their needs (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). With the passage of time, the world has evolved drastically in each and every aspect such as the increase in population, poverty, unemployment, competition and the like which have resulted in a number of criminal offenses such as conflicts, theft, robberies, murders, human trafficking and so on. The list of crimes is increasing at a very fast pace with the increase in negative qualities in people.

These are the main reasons for which laws and regulations came in the picture i.e. to control these offenses so that all people in the society can lead a happy and comfortable life without the fear that something wrong can happen to them. Some of the major reasons which give rise to offenses include greed, jealousy and desire of the person to go ahead of everyone, societal status, peer pressure, mental stress and a number of other factors that drive a person from normal human being to a criminal (DeLisi and Vaughn, 2014). Thus, it is clear that social justice and criminal justice are closely interconnected and share the common roots from which they evolved.

Justice focuses on the ideals of fairness and morals of equity. Social justice embraces all the different aspects that are essential in civilized life. It is a wider concept and includes criminal justice that is an important mechanism for achieving justice (Sensoy and DiAngelo, 2015). It is a part of social justice and an ideal of fairness for people who violate criminal law or people who became victims of such violators. The defendants, victims and other people seek and expect fairness from the criminal justice system. Moreover, the actions of this system often spark society as what can be considered as equal justice.

Different countries have their own set of criminal laws that tend to control criminal activities and provide remedies and justice to the bonafide parties. English criminal law is the body of law in the jurisdiction of England and Wales that deals with the crimes and their impacts. It is complementary to the civil law of the country (Hochstetler, DeLisi and Pratt, 2010). The purpose of criminal law is to protect society by detecting and prosecuting criminal actions and punishing the individuals who are charged with a violation of laws.

Another dimension that should be focused on is the two main elements or fundamentals of a crime – actus reas is a physical element that means a guilty act and men's rea is a mental element which means a guilty mind. But, England and Wales has strict liability offenses whereby behavior is criminalized without the need to prove criminal men's rea. These strict liability offenses have had a reverse impact on the wrongdoers as they are not given a chance to improve themselves and lead a normal life again (From criminal justice to social justice, 2010). One of the important cases in this context is regarding young adults. Millions of young adults are processed by agencies of the criminal justice system every year. Though this is justified on the grounds of its crime prevention efficacy it is greatly harmful to the lives of young adults that are considered as one of the most vulnerable groups in the society.

It tends to do unnecessary damage rather than resolving the disadvantage to the life chances of young adult offenders. This is the biggest hurdle that prevents them from living a crime-free life and they remain excluded from the society that triggers them to re-offend rather than becoming civilized persons (Bullock, 2014). It is vital to understand the reasons behind the offensive acts done by young adults as they might have faced personal, economical or social problems including blighted childhoods, poverty, violence, mental distress, exclusion, trauma and other social challenges. Thus, it can be seen that the criminal justice system is not contributing to social justice as targetting young adults who come from a poor and exclusion background is only exacerbating the problems instead of ameliorating them. The criminal justice system has nothing to offer to this age group for the cause of social justice. Therefore, it is inferred that lack of social justice in the criminal justice system would only increase the problems and crimes rather than reducing them and thus, principles and ideals of fairness cannot be achieved.

The law is developed for the benefits of all the citizens and not for a particular section of society. It is therefore important while taking any actions that the court of law considers both the aspects of the case rather than providing justice to the victim (Ford, 2011). As the criminal is also a human being and it is very possible that crimes conducted are not always due to guilty or malafide intentions but may be done negligently or mistakenly or due to some other mental distress that arises due to poor upbringing or other reasons as mentioned above. It is crucial that the law maintains a balance between moral aspects and criminal aspects so that the purpose for which legislation was made can be fulfilled.

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Social justice is a broader concept that encompasses ideals of fairness and equity on social, political and economic grounds. It tends to provide equal treatment to all the persons in the society without any discrimination on the basis of caste, color, creed, religion, gender, education, etc. While, criminal justice system seeks to identify criminal actions and punish the guilty when there is a violation of criminal law (Banks, 2012). It is a subset of social justice which is applicable when there is a violation of principles of fair and unfair, right and wrong according to criminal law. Therefore, the statement that criminal justice cannot be achieved in the absence of social justice is justified as when the basic principles of fairness and moral equity that form the foundation of laws and legislations are not achieved, then, the law would fail in providing its justice for which it was formed. Hence, it is crucial to understand the relationship between these two systems of justice which is embedded in society for a long time ago.


In a nutshell, it can be concluded from the above report that justice is an elusive term whose meaning varies from person to person and changes with the circumstances in which justice is sought. It is generally, interpreted as fairness. Two examples through which justice can be sought by society is social justice and criminal justice. Social justice is an overarching concept that is concerned with the principles of correctness and fairness in society based on the notion of equality and equal opportunities. Criminal justice is a subset of social justice that applies when the principles of just and unjust, right and wrong are violated according to the criminal law. It can be articulated that both these concepts have evolved from the same roots and it is impossible to achieve criminal justice without social justice. The criminal justice system is based on social justice that plays a key role in achieving the purpose of criminal law.

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  • Banks, C., 2012. Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice. Sage Publications.
  • Bullock, K., 2014. Introduction. In Citizens, Community and Crime Control. Palgrave Macmillan UK.
  • Cashmore, A. R., 2010. The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system. Proceedings of the National
  • DeLisi, M. and Vaughn, M.G., 2014. Foundation for a temperament-based theory of antisocial behavior and criminal justice system involvement. Journal of Criminal Justice.
  • Ford, S., 2011. A social psychology model of the perceived legitimacy of International Criminal Courts: Implications for the success of transitional justice mechanisms.Kelly, L., 2011. ‘Social inclusion through sports-based interventions?. Critical Social Policy. 
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