A philosophical and legal argument for equal access to good lawyers and other legal resources.
Should your risk of wrongful conviction depend on your wealth? We wouldn’t dream of passing a law to that effect, but our legal system, which permits the rich to buy the best lawyers, enables wealth to affect legal outcomes. Clearly justice depends not only on the substance of laws but also on the system that administers them.
In Equal Justice, Frederick Wilmot-Smith offers an account of a topic neglected in theory and undermined in practice: justice in legal institutions. He argues that the benefits and burdens of legal systems should be shared equally and that divergences from equality must issue from a fair procedure. He also considers how the ideal of equal justice might be made a reality. Least controversially, legal resources must sometimes be granted to those who cannot afford them. More radically, we may need to rethink the centrality of the market to legal systems. Markets in legal resources entrench pre-existing inequalities, allocate injustice to those without means, and enable the rich to escape the law’s demands. None of this can be justified. Many people think that markets in health care are unjust; it may be time to think of legal services in the same way.
At the core of this book is the ethos of fair distribution upon citizens of the benefits and burdens of the justice system…This book is an essential read for all interested in the rule of law.
Like many judges and former judges, I have long been affronted by serious gaps in access to justice. I have never come across any work which discusses the topic with anything approaching the breadth, depth, or rigor of Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s important book. I have some doubts about his proposal, which is radical indeed. But the ball is now very firmly in the court of those who disagree.
Engaging and provocative…Other work has considered the case for deprivatization of legal-services markets but never with the resolute philosophical grounding that Wilmot-Smith brings to bear…Draws richly deserved attention to the abject failures of laissez-faire in serving the legal needs of the less advantaged.
[An] important book…Nowhere has there been any sustained consideration of how the structure of a legal system might affect the justice of laws, or what a just system of administration of laws would be. This is the gap which this book seeks to fill and it does so most impressively…Very thought provoking. I cannot recommend it too highly to anyone who is interested in the fundamental question of what makes a legal system just.
Makes a strong case for significant (and perhaps radical) legal reform…[Wilmot-Smith] promises to present a framework to structure future discussions, and I believe that he achieves this in this book. Everyone benefits from a just legal system as proposed by the author and we owe it to ourselves to explore this theory further.
Essential for anyone interested in the justice of legal systems. It is also of considerable interest to political philosophers concerned to work out the institutional implications of egalitarianism.
While many scholars have inquired into problems associated with ‘access to justice,’ fewer have asked the question of how, in general, a legal system ought to be designed to administer justice justly, and hardly any have offered a general and systematic political-philosophical account of what it would mean for individuals to have equal access to legal representation and courts. Equal Justice is a brilliant, nuanced, and timely exploration of these very important topics.
Stimulating, clear, well-written, and persuasive, Equal Justice is a welcome contribution to a discussion that has been taking on recent importance in legal and political philosophy, focusing not so much on law and its nature but on the value of legality as it applies to how a political community governs itself.
Whole libraries have been devoted to justice in the substantive law, but, startlingly, no theoretically engaged book exists addressing justice in the legal system—asking what justice requires of the institutions that collectively administer the law. Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Equal Justice brilliantly fills this void. Full of sophisticated arguments beautifully presented—for example, that lawyers should not be allocated based on ability to pay because a just distribution of legal resources is constitutive of a just market—this book at once demands and repays close reading from anyone concerned with achieving justice under law.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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