Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: From Justitia to Tupac

Art is the connection this week; art for art’s sake, art as a legal symbol, and art as the spoken word:

1. Art for Art’s sake: One of the best museum in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum – a simple walk through does not do it justice (note – this is a foreshadowing of the next connection). The majestic melancholy of Van Gogh’s work is fully displayed as you walk pictorially through the artist’s troubled life. But wait, there’s more we can do in our digital world, we can actually walk through his paintings in this lovely 3D Animation by artist Luca Agnani. Soon we will actually be able to interact with the subjects of his paintings in “Loving Vincent,” a feature-length painted animation projectkickstarted” by the Oscar-winning studio BreakThru Films

2. Art as a Legal Symbol: As mentioned last week, Peter Goodrich’s article on Specters of Law discusses legal imagery and legal obfuscation. A fascinating passage in the article reveals the original image of Justice was not blindfolded. Based originally on the Greek Titan Goddess Themis, Justice was a blend of Greek and Roman female deities centered on law, order, and prophecy. Justice or Justitia was not depicted blindfolded until the Renaissance. In fact, Justitia, with her eyes wide open, viewed the world with utter clarity.  No one can hide from Justice. Why she became blindfolded is a bit of a mystery but whatever the reason, the blindfold became a symbol for the impartiality of the law. Today, there are very few images of Justice without a blindfold but the few are significant. Our own Supreme Court of Canada is pre-figured by the figure of Justice or Ivstitia;cloaked, embracing her sword of Justice, with no impediment to her sight. Even our legal progenitor, the British, have a golden statue of Lady Justice on the top of the Old Bailey criminal courthouse, outstretched with scales perfectly balanced but without blindfold. Banksy’s version of the Lady can be found here – blindfolded and unblindfolded – albeit much differently attired. 

3. Art as the Spoken Word: Lady Justice reminds me of Lady Liberty and Tupac Shakur’s poem Lady Liberty Needs Glasses. “Mrs. Justice” makes a cameo in the poem, which you can read here. Or, if you prefer audio, listen to Malcolm Jamal Warner read it from the “Rose That Grew From Concrete” album.

4. Art as Rhetoric: Finally, I give you the Greek orator, Demosthenes. If you want to learn about him and the reason why I was reading his speeches this week, read/listen to my blog/podcast from January 31. Unfortunately, this “art of persuasion” has not been nurtured in the law schools of today, either in its spoken or written form. Read “The Oration on the Crown" to see what we are missing. 

    Julian Barnes, Sherlock Holmes, and A Miscarriage of Justice

    Yesterday, the British writer, Julian Barnes, won the 2011 prestigious Man Booker Prize. I have read many of his books, some of which are particularly clever, such as The History of the World in 10 and A Half Chapters, with one chapter dedicated to a discussion of Theodore Gericault's 1819 painting of the aftermath of a shipwreck in The Raft of the Medusa.

    Barnes also recently wrote a book simply entitled Arthur & George. This book fictionalizes the real-life relationship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and a unassuming solicitor named George Edalji. This semi-fictional account juxtaposes the lives of these two men in the backdrop of one of England's infamous cases of injustice. Edalji, of Indian ethnicity, was wrongly accused and convicted of mutilating cattle and sending poisonous letters in support of the crime. He was sentenced to seven years of hard labour and disbarred until Conan Doyle "took up his case" in a purely Holmesian manner, and managed to clear Edalji's name and restore his law society membership.

    This case reminds us that one miscarriage of justice is one too many. In Canada, where such miscarriages have been revealed, not by celebrity writers, but by hard-working individuals, committed lawyers, and dedicated associations, we must be watchful and protective of justice and the repercussions of injustice. 

    On September 15, 2011, the Canadian Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) Heads of Prosecutions Committee on the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice released an update to their 2005 Report. The original Report is large in scope and contains many recommendations. It tackles a broad range of issues, including systemic injustices caused by Crown/Police tunnel vision. This update, entitled The Path to Justice: Preventing Wrongful Convictions, reviews prosecutorial practices and makes further recommendations. Interestingly, the update starts with a quote from another British writer of justice, Charles Dickens, in his book The Mystery of Edwin Drood:

    Circumstances may accumulate so strongly even against an innocent man, that directed, sharpened, and pointed, they may slay him.

    Barnes, Conan Doyle, and Dickens reminds us, in a literary and engaging way, of the importance of justice in our legal system. It is up to us, however, to translate these works into reality.This requires, as stated in the FPT Update, "continued vigilance."