Why is Lady Justice ‘BLINDFOLDED’?
Updated: Oct 30, 2022
Image Graphics by Team Geostrata
Why is lady justice ‘Blindfolded’? Is it because she is impartial or is she ashamed? Analyse the impact of emotions and the ‘face’ in the criminal justice system?
Lady Justice, the symbol of justice, represents the ethics of the justice system. According to the popular interpretation of the 'Blindfold,' it is free of 'passion and prejudice' (Schiffel, 2020). The justice system claims to be impartial and objective, meaning that it only considers facts, evidence, witnesses, true and false statements. This also implies that the 'fair' judgement is free of emotional bias. The paper questions this and proposes a different interpretation of the blindfolded lady justice, in which the justice system is ashamed of being influenced by emotions, highlighting an often overlooked and contentious feature of the legal system.
The first logical objection is whether institutions can feel shame. The term "institution" refers to a social phenomenon. An institution that is made up of humans and whose functions are carried out by humans, such as the justice system, cannot be free of human interactions. “Upheavals of thought”, a happening beyond one’s own sphere of control that disrupts the normal thought process of a person can be called an emotion (Nussbaum, 2001). By this view, humans cannot function without emotions. Therefore, an institution, which is a collective body of people and functions on the norms of society cannot be separated from ‘emotions’.
Further, it is necessary to understand how the institution of criminal justice can feel shame. Shame can be regarded as the feeling of incompetence of oneself arising from a shortcoming while comparing the ‘ideal self’ versus the ‘actual self’ (Morrison 1997, Ch 5). The failure of not being able to ‘be’ what one ideally ought to be, either directed by self-ethics or by societal norms. In the specific context of the justice system, it fails to be free of passion, which is beyond the ideal ethics of a ‘fair’ justice system. Therefore, it feels shameful.
The significance of the blindfold is salient to understanding the influence of emotions and the face in the justice system. The eyes which are the most expressive part of the ‘face’, tends to be the predominant method of gauging how someone is feeling, very well depicted in Baudelaire’s The eyes of the poor. In case of shame, we usually hide our ‘face’ and close our eyes, not to stop others from seeing us, but to refrain from seeing others, ‘see’ us (Chakrabarti 2022, Lecture). In this case the blindfolded lady justice depicts her to see ‘others’, see her giving judgement, which may not be always ‘fair’ according to ideal ethics.
The idea of the aforementioned interpretation of the symbol of justice is based on the establishment of the influence of the face and emotions on justice in the courtroom. The discussions will continue in the context of the criminal justice system, where the influence of emotions is evident. A criminal case has two primary characters in it, the victim(s) and the accused. The other two subjects involved in a case is the state, which is represented by the Judge, the lawyers, the witnesses, the investigators and sometimes the jury and the public, including the media, the people spectating the trial and everyone else.
It's fascinating to see how the various subjects involved in the case's individual emotions affect each other's thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The 'face' is the medium through which emotions are expressed. As a result, the 'face' of the other becomes a dominant source for gauging the other's emotions too (Rhie 2017). To conduct a check of morality, everyone tries to understand what the accused was feeling while commiting the crime and how the victim felt or the closed ones of the victim, in case of a murder. People with visual access to the faces try to often judge the facial expressions and figure out if it is a face of shame, remorse, regret, pride, hate, fear, anger, etc. (Ekman 1972). In cases that garner media attention, the public, who lacks direct access to the faces of those in the courtroom, gains an indirect understanding of the emotions through media. It gives rise to what is popularly known as Media trial. The best example to which is still considered a black spot on Indian Judiciary is the capital punishment of Dhananjay Chatterjee, a case of public influence on judgement and media trial, the state hanged the accused purely based on circumstancial evidence ( Sengupta, Choudhury, Goswami 2016).
The mingling of the emotions of the various subjects involved produces a different type of emotion, a collective hatred, sympathy, or anger that heavily influences the judgement. It would be incorrect to say that the emotion is the judge's, the lawyers', or anyone's individual emotion, but rather an emotion that exists only when all of these emotions come into play in the courtroom. Something similar to ‘Ownerless Emotions’ in Indian aesthetics, where it is difficult to say that while relishing a piece of art or a play, it is whose emotion we are enjoying (Chakrabarti 2006).
It can be rightly said that any institution that involves human interaction cannot be separated from emotional influence and thereof the influence of the face. It is indeed a failure on the front of the justice system for not being able to be purely objective and deliver judgement blindly without passion. The interpretation of blindfolded lady justice can be looked at from a different perspective, as the expression of being ashamed of not being ‘fair’, as ethics suggest. It can be rightly asked, can any institution involving humans be ever free from emotions ?
Schiffel, Melissa A. "Symbolism behind Lady Justice’s blindfold." Delaware Gazette Online, (July 03, 2020): Link
Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Morrison, Andrew P. 1989, Shame, the underside of narcissism ch 5. Analytic Press : Distributed solely by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Hillsdale, NJ
Rhie, B. 2017. The Philosophy of the Face. In: Hagberg, G. (eds) Wittgenstein on Aesthetic Understanding. Philosophers in Depth. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Ellsworth, P. (1972). Emotion in the human face: Guidelines for research and an integration of findings ch-3 Pergamon Press.
Chakrabarti, Arindam (2011). Ownerless Emotions in Rasa-Aesthetics. In Ken-Ichi Sasaki (ed.), _Asian Aesthetics_. National University of Singapore Press.
Chakrabarti, Arindam. "Shame." Mind and Behaviour: FC: Consciousness, Emotions and the face. Class lecture at Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana, July 25, 2022.
Sengupta, D, Chowdhury P, Goswami P (2016) Adalat-Media-Samaj Ebong Dhananjayer Fashi, Bengali (Titled as Court-Media-Society and Dhananjay’s Hanging)
BY SUBHAM SEN
Subham Sen is a rising sophomore pursuing Political Science
and International Relations at Ashoka University.