Lady Justice's blindfold and human rights
Justice is generally personified as a woman with the name of Lady Justice or - in its latin form - Iustitia, the Roman Goddess of Justice. According to sculptor Gilbert E. Barrera, Lady Justice is a more recognizable sculpture worldwide than the Statue of Liberty.
Her seemingly timeless symbolism goes back to various female deities in different cultures. Notable are Maat, the ancient Egyptian Goddess of truth and justice as well as Greek's mother-daughter tandem Themis and Dike, the respective rulers over divine and human justice.
Interestingly, Lady Justice is often shown wearing a blindfold. According to the relevant English Wikipedia article, the common practice of depicting her this in way only started at the end of the 15th century. The relevant German Wikipedia article states that while this initially mocked the blindness of the judiciary, the interpretation of Lady Justice's blindfold changed around 1520 when it began to symbolize impartiality. Justice David Andrew Ipp describes it in the following way: "The blindfold represents the idea that political views, ideology, sympathy and even compassion are very bad guides to judgment. A blindfolded justice cannot see who comes before her, and hence cannot be impressed by powerful litigants (such as government)) who might seek to intimidate her, or persuade her by appealing to her emotions. Thus, the blindfold represents impartiality, neutrality and freedom from the influence of the senses. The blindfolded goddess acts solely on grounds of principle and reason." (emphasis has been added). Obviously, the blindfold has to be taken in a metaphorical way given that "freedom from the influence of the senses" is not attainable - a judge who even temporarily lacked the important senses eye sight, hearing and, to a lesser degree, touch could not interact meaningfully with legal documents, evidence and other people involved in the trial.
The possibility of a positive (impartiality) and negative (blindness) interpretation of the blindfold hints at a certain tension that lies at the core of the concept of justice. The acceptance of the idea of an impartial judiciary in countries governed by the rule of law worldwide is an immense human accomplishment. As kangaroo courts or show trials unfortunately demonstrate, it is an attainment that still cannot be taken for granted even though it is, inter alia, guaranteed in Art. 14 and 16 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and many constitutions worldwide.
While it is therefore imperative to continue to strive for the impartiality of the judiciary, it is also necessary to address the negative connotation Lady Justice's blindfold brings up. In this regard, Susann Funderud Skogvang has brought up an interesting question in the abstract of her article "Judicial Independence and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples": "Lady Justice is blindfolded, so she does not see the people in front of her and is thus able to treat everyone equally, it is commonly said. She only considers facts and law. But what if true justice requires that Lady Justice lifts the veil of ignorance and considers the cultural background of the people before her?"
Whereas Skogvang specifically refers to the situation of indigenous peoples, a broader question arises: what if true justice requires that Lady Justice considers the individual background of the people before her?
In reality, Lady Justice is not blind to the people before her. For instance, the existence of Juvenile Law proves that the legal systems "want" her to take the defendant's background - in this case age and development - into account. Other examples include: A teenager receives a different treatment than an adult. A repeat offender generally gets a higher sentence for a similar crime than a first time offender does. Addictions and mental illnesses influence the final sentence.
Maybe it is time to remove Lady Justice's blindfold from statues worldwide.