What makes a legal system fair or unfair? I am trying to narrow down to a few key points. Attempting to compare laws today to code of Hammurabi.

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Equality of the citizens before the law, while very difficult to actually accomplish, is a hallmark of a just legal system.  Without it, citizens lose respect for the legal process and view it as a way for government to maintain power or individuals and businesses to enrich themselves.  More specific elements include the right to hear the charges and to face your accusers, the right to legal counsel to represent you, and reasonable sentencing and punishments under the law.

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The purpose of government is to safeguard rights.  To safeguard them, laws are enacted.  Individuals possess rights, and may do whatever they wish as long as their actions do not intrude upon the rights of another individual.  Doing so breaks the law. When that occurs, proceedings begin to make amends for such transgressions.  The ideal system would be where no rights are ever violated; the next best would be that when rights are violated, justice is consistently served, without regard to socio-economic status, that all appear equally before the law.  The better we adhere to that code the more fair the system will be; as others have noted, even that ideal falls short when the wealthy can buy their way out.

The intent of the Code of Hammurabi was to standardize legal proceedings and establish a form of the Rule of Law.  No doubt, however, the wealthy bought their way out back then as well.

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While the United States of America has perhaps one of the most equitable and evolved legal systems of any country in the world, one cannot deny that it has its faults. I would have to agree that one of its flaws is that justice serves best those who can afford to pay for it.

1)Do public defenders come from high quality law backgrounds? They do their job to the best of their ability (we hope), but there is no doubt that someone with money could hire a better lawyer.

2)Someone charged with a serious crime will sit in jail if he or she does not have the money to get out. The richer suspect might be just as guilty (or innocent) in the long run, but they don't sit in jail as long.

3)The rich can draw their court cases on and on as long as they have the money to pay for lawyers and appeals. What options do the financially strapped have.

If the Hammurabi Code philosophises that no one is above the law, then this would prove contrary to the laws of the United States, as quite frequently the rich are above the law.

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Hammurabi’s Code, as I understand it, was a system of pure application of the law. The modern American legal system is based on principles of both law and equity. What makes the legal system unfair in the United States is that persons of high socioeconomic status are able to purchase their way out of punishments and consequences. Senator Ted Kennedy was a prime example of how a rich father can buy a son’s way out of the legal system.

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The Hammurabi Code is one steeped in the idea of no individual is above the rule of law, that some precepts cannot be undone, even by kings.  This is an idea embedded in our democracy today, stressing equality within and before the law.  In the process, we can see that the drive for equality being an integral part of the definition of justice is a critical one.

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In my opinion, equality and due process are the most important elements of fairness in a legal system, and these are provided in the document that created our legal system, the Constitution and its Amendments. 

A system of law in which people perceive that they will not be deprived of "life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness" without being treated equally is a system that works because everyone is subject to the same rules and sanctions, at least theoretically. People might not be happy with the consequences, but if everyone faces the same consequences, then there is a perception of fairness.

Due process is also central to the notion of fairness in the law.  What is due process?  Due process is the hoops government must jump through before they can take away your life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. For example, you cannot be imprisoned or fined unless you have a trial, a knowledge of the charges against you, an attorney if you want one, the ability to call witnesses for you, the ability to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you, and so on.  No one can put you away or take your money without going through all of these steps and more.   Having due process built into our legal system provides us with the perception of fairness because it is meant to assure us that the government cannot act arbitrarily against us. 

As long as a society perceives that its legal system is fair, it will conform (mostly) to its requirements.  When a society begins to feel that the legal system is unfair, it is less likely to hold up its end of the social contract. 

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