Social Justice issues:
The Verdict captures the growth of Frank Galvin, a character who goes from being a keen law graduate to a chronic alcoholic after being framed by his firm’s senior partner for jury trampling, when Frank tried to expose the corrupt practices his firm employed. Post this incident, Frank loses interest in his career. He defines a person who has given up on his life. The defining moment in Frank’s life occurs when he takes up a case of medical negligence in which, a woman developed complications during child-birth and was rendered permanently vegetative due to lack of oxygen after choking on her own vomit. This case alters the character of the protagonist; it strikes a chord with him. The chord of humanity, that seemed to have become dormant till that moment. The movie then goes on to show that the defense want to settle the case for $210,000. Frank, however, being the changed man that he is, to everyone’s surprise, refuses to settle. His visit to the hospital can be seen as a wake up call as the human in him rises to meet the situation.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, the relatives of the patient want to settle for the money, as it would cover the expenses of looking after the patient. At a time like this what does social justice demand? The dichotomy of whether it is more important to bring the offenders to book or to settle for the money forms the crux of the social justice issues. With a powerful opposition and a cynical Judge common sense dictates settling for the money. The social justice viewpoint requires Frank to face all odds and try as best as he can to punish the negligence of the doctor. Social justice is wider than legal justice. It comprises of the essence of humanity, it involves upholding humanity above everything else. Frank chose to fight for it against all odds in order to value himself as a human.
Legal justice was definitely served in this case.
Despite the Judge asking the Jury to ignore the testimony of the nurse as it did not meet certain technical criteria required for giving a testimony before the court, the Jury (rightly so) kept in mind the testimony of the nurse and delivered their verdict in favor of Frank’s client. This can be termed as a remarkable victory as the verdict was delivered more along the lines of social justice than in consonance with legal provisions. The jury even requested the judge to award compensation greater than what the victim’s family had appealed for. Legal justice was thus served by circumventing the legal provisions that required the testimony of the nurse to be stricken from the record. It was upheld in the true spirit of law. As such, one sees a curious mix of social and legal justice. Legal justice was achieved in the true spirit of the law, which requires all perpetrators of the crime to be punished for their wrongdoings. This in reality is the ultimate aim of any legal enactment. Legal justice goes beyond what is entailed in the provisions of any Act. It seeks to confer on all persons the right to redress their grievances in case their rights have been violated.
A distinction needs to be made between the letter and the spirit of law. The spirit of law defines what the law seeks to achieve and the letter of law defines how to achieve it. (Gracia, Chen and Gordon) Sometimes the letter of law needs to be transgressed in order to achieve the spirit of law. In this movie too what was important was upholding the fact that every person has a right to life and when this is violated against the perpetrators must be punished in the court of law. While the letter of law may not have been adhered to, the spirit of law was most definitely respected. As such the constitutional rights of the victim as well as the accused were equally respected. The constitution in any State is the supreme law of the land. The right to life of a person is enshrines in the constitution. In the movie the negligence of the doctor led to negative consequences on the life of the victim. By delivering the verdict in favor of the victim the constitutional right of the victim was respected. Also, by giving the defendants the right to represent themselves in the court of law, the constitutional right of the defendants was also respected.
Social worker standpoint:
There are many instances in life where people are forced to decide between the lesser evil. Filing the case and not settling could have cost the victims family loss of compensation. But, taking the money (how much ever it may be required) instead of fighting the case would not be the right thing to do. What a person wants might be at odds with what is right. At times like this it is best to employ a rational and coherent outlook and make the best possible decision. Settling for a certain sum of money would have raised social justice issues with respect to bringing the offender to the book and punishing the doctor for his negligence. If the doctor were to go scot-free wouldn’t that mean endangering the life of other potential patients?
In this situation, as a social worker, one would rather choose to fight out the case in the court of law and punish the perpetrators and get compensation. At the end of the movie when the Jury ignores the comments of the Judge and keeps in mind the testimony of the nurse, one feels that good had triumphed over evil, that justice has been served and that the ends of social as well as legal justice has been met. However, one needs to keep in mind that legal provisions in any State define the judicial system and how justice is to be deposed. Often what is right can be at odds with what is entailed in the legal provisions. Though it is not often that one can override the legal provisions, extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures as was taken by the jury in this movie.
Gracia Stephen, Chen Patricia and Gordon Matthew (2014). The Letter Versus the Spirit of law: A lay Perspective on Culpability. Judgment and Decision Making Journal (9). Retrieved from http://journal.sjdm.org/14/14605/jdm14605.pdf