Irish Times Article

Received by hand on April 19th 2006 from Mr Gerard Madden (Senior Social Worker)

Believed to have been published sometime during the days or weeks just preceding April 19th 2006


Dealing with injustice


by Marie Murray (Psychologist)

        "The world is still deceived with ornament.
          In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt
          But being seasoned with a gracious voice
          Obscures the show of evil."

    From: William Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice".

(Believed to have been written sometime between 1596 and 1598 A.D.)


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Justice preoccupies child and philosopher alike. The importance of fairness is evident in the meticulous manner in which children demand that it be demonstrated in every detail. Fairness is required in the pouring of drinks and the distribution of sweets.

It is demanded by the democracy of turn-taking. Everyone is entitled to a turn, to fair and equal time playing with a designated toy, to equivalent treats and to identical regard in the eyes of parents, teachers and authority figures.

Parents must not have favourites, teachers must not have pets. The age at which one is allowed privileges must be the age at which siblings acquired these rights. Life does not have to be perfect: adversity is acceptable provided it is equal. When fairness is flouted, the universe is at risk. Injustice is always unacceptable.

In school, a group must not be punished for the wrongdoing of an individual; unfair advantage must not be given to one student above another; praise must be awarded on merit not on whim; and the consistent, impartial application of rules must be seen to be adhered to. Vigilantes with regard to the administration of justice by adults, young people are quick to observe and abhor any arbitrariness or prejudice in adult behaviour.

Injustice is unpalatable to all age groups. It confuses the child, angers the adolescent, appals the adult and outrages those who have seen its consequences too often. This is because they know the many human systems in which injustice may locate itself and "justify" its lodging. Some injustices are inequalities experienced by sections of society because of the circumstances of their birth: their gender, skin colour, mental capacity, physical ability, age, wealth and the unwillingness of the surrounding society to challenge unequal treatment based on these facts. Other injustices may arise randomly, by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time; by being unable to prove one's victimhood; or by finding that there is no adequate legal redress for what one has suffered in an unprovoked attack upon oneself or upon one's family.

Being the recipient of such an injustice is more than an emotion. It is excruciatingly visceral. It invades the human psyche with the most lancing cut. Depending on the severity of the injustice, life may ever after be divided mentally between the time before and after the unjust event.

The experience of injustice alters the perception of oneself, of the safety of the world, the security of life, and the belief that wrongs inflicted will be put right. Injustice destroys justice because it destroys belief in justice. It destroys the notion of justice as something more than an activity or an act but as a powerful principle at work in the universe.

For many, receiving justice within the legal system may seem to depend on the capriciousness of circumstances, the existence of witnesses, the admissibility of evidence, and the rigor, laxity, absence, provision or revision of legislation to deal with that particular crime in the jurisdiction in which a person becomes a victim of that crime.

For some, what is perceived as judicial injustice is a crime upon the crime: a further defilement after rape and an insult that exceeds the original assault. This structural injustice seems to seek to rationalise the crime, construct victims as consensual or complicit in their suffering and construe as inadmissible that which any rational person would regard as relevant to the case.

In so doing it discredits the reality of victims and fails to redress their hurt. For to go to court is to petition for justice. A case dismissed is a person dismissed if justice is not served. When the rules of law challenge excessively the right to justice, review of legal structures is required.

People tend to believe in the power of justice until they have an experience that refutes that belief. What makes injustice particularly painful for those who experience it is not relinquishment of a belief in fair redress, but that belief in fairness itself is lost.

Clinically, the emotions and behaviours consequent upon perception of grave injustice are many. Injustice may bring a need to wail with primitive, howling outrage. It may show itself in scorched receding eyes that will not recount what has occurred. It may speak loudly, livid with determination to redress the wrong. It may be barely audible, unable to articulate the depth of the despair. Sometimes it will regress to childlike questioning how such unfairness could occur or be allowed. Sometimes it arms itself with anger to revenge what others will not right. It is all action and immobility, all words and silence, all reality and illusory.

Sometimes it chokes in indignation. Sometimes it sobs with frustration. Sometimes it closes in upon itself, emerging in depression. Other times it pretends it never happened or it is consumed with nothing else.

The psychological consequences of injustice usually present as post-traumatic symptoms and with time and sensitive intervention are amenable to psychotherapy, and victims of crime should seek support.

* Marie Murray is director of psychology, St Vincent's Hospital, Fairview.


"The Ruling Elites"

(Letter dated November 20th 2008 to Dr Anne Jeffers containing reference to the above article)




Scanned copy of original article:


 Text of article


Constitution of Ireland:
Bunreacht na hEireann

and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (United Nations): 


European Convention on Human Rights (Council of Europe):

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations): 






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