Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mechanics of Justice: Form and Substance

One can only wonder what the South African public are thinking when issues such as the one around PigSpotter come about. Of more concern to me though is what the government itself is thinking.

Without repeating the content of Mistry's excellent article on Wonkie, the function of government in any country is to serve and protect its citizens. And it is necessarily this underlying intention that needs to drive the justice system. So in the case of PigSpotter, a twitter account that basically warns the public of speed traps, road blocks and other traffic disruptions, the question remains: does the public ultimately benefit? And certainly I believe they do. If the goal of the traffic authority is to ensure people drive prudently especially in high accident risk areas, then certainly PigSpotter is aiding the cause. In fact rather than reprimand him, the government should probably be hiring him to continue with the same job.

Unfortunately that is not the case and the authorities are trying to legally gun the rogue public reporter down. Is it that the traffic department is motivated primarily by the revenue generation opportunity that speeding fines represent? And is it possible that PigSpotter is seen as merely reducing this revenue stream? Quite possibly so.

Another argument is of course that the rule of law needs to be followed objectively and without discretion if corruption is to be kept at bay. Is it ok to warn the public about speed cameras and also crime check roadblocks? Clearly both of those are not the same. The latter certainly does defeat the ends of justice and the public should quite rightly be willing to bear the inconvenience of those delays.. particularly given their regular whinge about crime.

In the end, the point is that the substance of the law - not the form of it - should be the deciding factor in whether the action is just or not. So in the PigSpotter case, the authorities should catch PigSpotter because he is breaking the law. Upon judgement though, he should be found not guilty only for the disclosure of the speed trap locations and guilty for defeating the ends of justice with respect to disclosing roadblock locations.

1 comment:

googlyblogger said...

great article - makes one really wonder about whether there is any alignment between form and substance in government