How do we address injustice?

MOST people recognise the importance of laws in a society. There is an inherent understanding of justice that we have within us and a kind of social contract with those around us of how to behave, what is acceptable and the laws in place that function to create order and a safe space.

While we are not responsible for enforcing laws, when there is an obvious injustice, we feel it. Sometimes, we don't just stay silent and become bystanders to injustice, sometimes we actually say something about it and we do something about it.

This was the situation recently, when a titled woman "used a get out of jail card" for good behaviour after admitting to severely abusing her maid.

When news broke of her early release and for good behaviour no less, the internet reverberated with calls for the said "Datin" to be sent right back to jail. No one minced their words.

The call grew louder when the maid-abuser failed to turn up in court for an appeals hearing. Malaysians got angrier, why? Because even if we didn't know of Lord Hewart CJ's well know dictum, we sure believe what he opined over 100 years ago that "justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done".

But a nagging question circles with regard to this case. If there wasn't a public outcry, would the perpetrator be sent back to jail?

Not only must justice be seen to be done, the punishment handed down should be proportionate to the crime and not based on the social standing of the personalities involved. We can talk about the abstract rule of law but all that needs to be translated into law enforcement and justice. Without it, the criminal justice institutions lose credibility with the people.

So when a politician states that his urine test results is a false positive after being hauled up at a night club for drinking coffee, very few are convinced. Days later when the police apologised stating the approved test strip used by the police was very sensitive, clearing the politician of a positive drug test, the question then is do all those who test positive in the past then get a second testing because the police test strips are too sensitive or are we normalising special treatment based on a person's status or political clout? What this inadvertently does is, it lays thick doubt about the credibility of the police force and the processes in place.

When there is a collapse in values, we witness an erosion of institutions, which creates genuine political anxiety because that justice barometer within us is disturbed.

If we don't have a credible justice system, what checks and balances are in place to make sure those in power do not abuse it? What certainty do we have that the different components of the criminal justice system will not be swayed by political and other preferences? How confident are we that our rights as citizens are safe?

We should be able to answer that with a roaring confident yes. But when we see cases like that of a Malaysian mother who even though the courts granted her custody has yet to see her daughter for the last 8 years, we question the credibility of our justice system even more.

When we see how this election is being redefined by re-delineation exercises with no room for contestation or objections, we question. When the new constituency boundaries are drawn based on racial lines, we question. When there is malapportionment devaluing the vote, we question. These injustices are felt deeply and not easily forgotten.

Setting an election date in the middle of the week does not help either, it just fans this sense of injustice that people already feel about the violation of individual liberties, even if May 9 is declared a public holiday.

So how do we address injustice? The simplistic answer is to hold people accountable and vote. Look at the track record of the candidates running and parties they belong to. Also look at the arguments you disagree with and engage in a civil way.

It is important to hear the different sides and weigh it against the last five or ten years. Ask yourself what you'd like to see happen in the next five years and who will be able to deliver on the promises.

It is a lot of work and takes a lot of emotion and it is tiring but a democracy is more than just voting. A democracy requires you to be an informed and active citizen. Once you've done all that, then decide on who will be able to not just restore the law but ensure impartiality and deliver justice consistently.