Just Justice – how can we achieve the fair distribution of legal resources?

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal Theory organised an author-meets-critics workshop on the manuscript of the book Just Justice by Frederick Wilmot-Smith. This workshop was funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund.  Lucas Miotto, a PhD candidate in the Edinburgh Law School, introduces the key issues and questions raised by this soon-to-be-published book.

Resources must be fairly distributed. Hardly anyone would disagree with this statement. Besides, most people would agree that the fair distribution of resources is something valuable which we should care about. And people do care about it. Many of the heated debates about social security, social benefits, education, public health and immigration which have recently caught the attention of the public and the media are – or at least are connected to – debates about the fair distribution of resources. It is no exaggeration to say that debates about the fair distribution of resources are at the core of past and present public debate.

Just as we talk about the distribution of economic or educational resources, we can talk about the distribution of legal resources. The public needs lawyers and courts. Like any other resource, lawyers and courts are scarce and access to them doesn’t come for free. So, how about the fair distribution of legal resources? What sort of distribution would count as fair? Curiously, and unfortunately, questions like these are under-appreciated. Not only has the public been timid in addressing questions about the fair distributions of legal resources; an in-depth philosophical treatment of the topic has been entirely missing. Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Just Justice attempts to correct this.

The book directly engages with many puzzles associated with the fair distribution of legal resources. It starts by questioning the very object of distribution. What should be fairly distributed? To say ‘access to lawyers and courts’ would be too simplistic an answer. The object of fair distribution, Wilmot-Smith argues, is broader than this. Of course, he doesn’t deny that it is important to fairly distribute access to legal resources such as lawyers and courts. But the questions about the fair distribution of these legal resources hang on a broader debate about the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the justice system. It is only after we have sound principles for the fair distribution of such benefits and burdens that we will be able to address the fair distribution of legal resources (e.g., access to lawyers and courts).

The core part of the book puts forward principles for the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the justice system. In a nutshell, the principles defended in the book support the establishment of a justice system in which benefits and burdens are equally distributed among citizens. Practical implications are myriad, and some of the institutional reforms required to meet the proposed principles radically clash with established views about the justice system. The book, however, doesn’t shy away from defending these radical implications and objecting to established views. In fact, some of these implications are defended at length. For, example, the book has an entire chapter dedicated to defending the view that the justice system should be financed by everyone – which is perhaps the most controversial implication of the principles defended throughout the book. Discussions about the privatisation of legal resources and alternative dispute resolution systems also receive an extensive treatment. The book is no doubt an extremely timely and important contribution to legal philosophy and to the public debate in general. It sharply allies care for philosophical rigour with readability and public relevance.

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal Theory had the pleasure of hosting an author-meets-critics workshop to discuss Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Just Justice on May 24th, 2017. The event, jointly organised by Luís Duarte d’Almeida and Euan MacDonald, featured a total of eight commentators – ranging from philosophy to criminal law and political science – each of which focused on a different chapter of the book manuscript.

Participants were keen to engage in discussion and offered both critical remarks and constructive feedback. As a result, discussion was very lively, friendly and informal. We look forward to the publication of Just Justice, and we would like to express our gratitude to the Global Justice Academy, whose support made this event possible.

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