3 Social justice
Social justice is a difficult concept to define. It combines equity, fairness, and a commitment to social action, focusing on equal justice not just in our legal system but in all areas of society.
The Oxford Dictionary of Education defines ‘social justice’ as ‘a term which refers to the good of the whole community, where that is taken to include both the good of each and the good of all, in an acknowledgement that one depends on the other’ (Wallace, 2015).
This is further developed in the definition by the Center for Economic and Social Justice:
Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others, at whatever level of the ‘Common Good’ in which we participate, to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.
Social justice is not only concerned with what is just for the individual but what is just for society as a whole. Everyone should have equal rights, opportunities, privileges and protections, from the poorest to the richest in our society; but how do we define ‘just’ and ‘equal’ and who is responsible for ensuring that society is a just and fair place? This is complex and challenging.
Examples of social justice include:
- the universal right to vote
- free public education
- equal opportunity to employment
- welfare benefits.
Social justice encompasses economic, political, social and legal rights for all; we will all have different definitions of social justice. Clinical legal education can address social justice problems by seeking to improve the lives and wellbeing of people.
Activity 6 What does social justice mean for you?
- a.Visit the and read about some of the projects of Avocats Sans Frontières.
- b.Read ‘Legal literacy, community empowerment and law schools – some lessons from a working model in the UK’ (Grimes, 2003).
In this article, Richard Grimes explains the development of street law projects. This is just one example of how a model of clinical legal education can be used to further social justice education.
- c.Answer the following questions:
- i.Is it a lawyer’s job to work for justice?
- ii.Should clinical legal education focus on justice?
- iii.What pro bono programmes would you like to see created, or be involved in?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. If you have a good idea for a new pro bono initiative, please do contact the Open Justice team at email@example.com.