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Learned friends tell me that law and justice mean not the same thing. Though the one is supposed to result in the other, many times they are at variance – with the law significantly undermining justice.

Sometimes, that which is just may not be in line with the law, and that which is legal is not always just. No wonder in Charles Dickens’ play, Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble, the unhappy spouse of a domineering wife, disagreed when he was told in court, “...the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.” Bumble’s reply was apt: “If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass – a idiot!” Sadly, many of us, like the Pharisees of old, have come to peg the entirety of our lives on this ass (English not American!).

The Pharisees did not gain a bad name because they were intrinsically bad – not at all. In fact, the Pharisees comprised a select elite who had assumed custody of Israel’s laws and traditions. Theirs was a commitment to strictly enforce the rule of law. They punished severely any person who violated the tiniest precept.

This fanatic observance of the law was driven primarily by the fact that, at least twice prior to the coming of Jesus, Israel had been taken into captivity for prolonged periods for not keeping the laws of God – especially for not observing Sabbath and the Sabbatical years.

The Pharisees were therefore determined to ensure that the Jews were not only never ever taken into exile again, but that they also attained internal self-rule from their colonial masters. Violators were thus viewed as enemies to the collective good of Israel.

By the time Jesus appeared on the historical scene, this Pharisaic philosophy had become the accepted norm. Jesus’ life and ministry however proved to be counterculture. On several occasions He healed the sick and did many other things on the Sabbath, thereby breaking a cardinal tenet of the Pharisees. The result was a constant and consistent confrontation with the Pharisees in an irreconcilable ideological clash.

Clearly though, in their zeal to enforce the rule of law, the Pharisees had missed a significant reality – that justice is far more important than the rule of law. They failed to appreciate that doing the right thing supersedes doing things right; that the ass must never rule the man.

Observing some of the legal trends we are adopting as a nation, there is reason to fear that we are slowlybut surely sliding down the path of the Pharisees. The so-called “rule of law” that is religiously embraced by some of our own elites, is beginning to trample all considerations for justice and social welfare.

When the rights of a rapist, murderer, or terrorist are held higher than those of their victims – in the name of the constitutional rights of the accused – then you know that the ass is dislodging the man. Courtesy of legal bonds and bails, a murder suspect takes a peaceful picnic with his friends and family in the serenity of the cemetery grounds where the victim of his heinous crime lies six feet under.

When human life can be legally terminated through clever constitutional interpretations, then we must be afraid of Mr Bumble’s idiot. When polygamy has been institutionalised and there is a strong push to lower the legal age for consensual sex, then you should no longer trust the rule of law.

This rule of law thing is also beginning to cripple the ordinary running of government. The new buzz word is “public participation” through which implementation of even very noble government processes are frustrated.

For example, the proposed demonetisation of the old Sh1,000 note, which many consider an innovative blow to corruption cartels, already faces legal barriers – ostensibly in pursuit of the rule of law. Granted, none of us would want to go back to our days of Babylon, when the government turned us into slaves and ruled us with fiat.

However, unless checked, the legalistic yoke of the Pharisees can prove more punitive than the lash of the slave driver – it is such legalistic zeal that nailed Jesus to the cross.

Our courts have the onerous task of ensuring that the rule of law does not drift into Pharisaic legalism. Our hope, therefore, is on that judge or magistrate who adopts a philosophical interpretation and application of the law that upholds our values and dispenses justice. Otherwise, the very legal instruments that were meant to liberate us will soon enslave us.

- The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]

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