7 Apr 2022


Ideal of Justice vs. the Limitations of Bureaucracy

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Ideal of Justice vs. the Limitations of Bureaucracy in the Adversarial System

The administration of justice is the primary purpose for which the criminal justice system in the United States was established (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015). The system adopts an adversarial form where there are two opposing sides: the defendant and the plaintiff. This system has been criticized for hindering the delivery of justice. There are many who argue that the adversarial system allows the wealthy who can afford legal fees to avoid punishment while the poor suffer (Stuntz, 2008). While there is some merit in this argument, it fails to take into account the realities of the criminal justice system. This paper focuses on the failure of the justice system to deliver justice. It expresses support for the argument that the primary adversarial relationship in the courts is not between the plaintiff (prosecutor, or state) and defendant, but rather between the ideal of justice and the reality of bureaucratic limitations. 

It has already been mentioned above that the primary purpose of the criminal justice system in the US is the delivery of justice. This system has failed terribly at fulfilling this purpose (Black, 2011). While it is true that this failure is the result of deliberate actions on the part of such parties as lawyers and prosecutors, flaws and limitations in the bureaucratic system are mostly at fault. To make this point clearer, the case of a poor man who is facing criminal charges can be considered. This man is unable to afford the high legal fees that are being demanded. The man is convicted despite the fact that he did not commit the crime for which he faced charges. Who is at fault for the conviction of this man? Is the judge who relied on witness testimony and the arguments of the prosecutor? Is it the legal profession for failing to avail affordable services to this man? There are no clear answers to these questions. However, it can be argued that this man has been failed by the system. The system possesses bureaucratic flaws that make it impossible for affordable legal services to be delivered. It can also be said that the system truly desires to ensure that justice is delivered. However, the bureaucratic structure and limitations in the system hinder the fulfillment of this desire. Therefore, it is quite clear that the adversarial system does not pit the plaintiff against the defendant. Instead, it places the desire by the justice system to deliver justice on a collision path with bureaucratic limitations in the system.

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That the primary adversarial relationship is between the ideal of justice and bureaucratic limitations becomes clear when one considers the possibility that the relationship is between the plaintiff and the defendant. For the relationship to be between the defendant and the plaintiff, it would be required that in all court cases, the two parties know one another and one wishes to destroy the other. The truth is the primary desire of each party is to protect their interest. This is not to say that there are no cases where parties seek to destroy the other. For instance, an unscrupulous business person could sue a company with the aim of driving the company into bankruptcy. This example represents a small minority of cases. As already mentioned, in almost all cases, each party wishes to safeguard their interest. This raises the question of where the adversarial relationship lies. The only satisfactory response to this question is that the relationship is between the adversarial ideal and bureaucratic limitations. While the criminal justice system is committed to delivering justice, it is held back by bureaucratic limitations. 

Due process is one of the foundational principles of the American criminal justice system (May, 2010). Essentially, due process is concerned with fair treatment. It is achieved by ensuring that a citizen is subjected through all the proper structures and procedures (May, 2010). For instance, due process demands that upon arrest, an individual should be informed of their right to an attorney and to remain silent. The entire criminal justice system stands firmly behind the principle of due process. Court officials, law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities are mostly committed to ensuring that the rights of no individual are violated. Why then is it that so many instances of miscarriage of justice occur in the US? Why is it that many Americans are wrongly convicted? The answer to this question can be found in the adversarial relationship between bureaucratic limitations and the ideal of justice. Many agencies in the criminal justice system grapple with inadequate funding (Laughland, 2016). Without sufficient funding, they are unable to ensure that the due process is followed in all cases. It would therefore be unfair to blame them for failures in the justice system. It would also be wrong to argue that the relationship between plaintiffs and defendants is to blame for the failures of the justice system. The only reasonable conclusion that can be made is that there is a primary adversarial relationship between the ideal of justice and bureaucratic limitations. 

Apart from due process, crime control and rehabilitation are the other basic elements of the American justice system (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015) . One of the primary functions that the system serves regards minimizing crime. The justice system also absorbs criminals and releases them back into their communities as productive members after thorough rehabilitation. That the system has failed to rehabilitate and reduce crime is not in question. Figures indicate that the crime levels in the US are worryingly high (Keating & Lu, 2016). Additionally, the reoffending rate is also high. These are clear indications that the system is failing. Bureaucratic limitations shoulder the bulk of the blame for this failure. The justice system is simply very complex. There are too many agencies which are unable to work seamlessly to ensure that justice is delivered. For instance, conflicts often arise among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies as they argue over jurisdiction. These conflicts hinder the delivery of justice. It must be remembered that all these agencies truly desire to fulfill the ideal of justice. Their inability to do this underscores the fact that the adversarial relationship in the courts is between bureaucratic limitations and the ideal of justice and not between the defendant and the plaintiff. 

No debate would be complete without a counterargument. It can be argued that the adversarial relationship in the courts is indeed between the defendant and the plaintiff. These are the primary actors in the courts. The nature of their relationship is also adversarial. Each party tries to outdo the other by procuring the best legal services (Stuntz, 2008). The lengths that the parties go in their quest for victory lend support to the counterargument. Despite its validity, the counterargument simply fails to offer a sufficient explanation for the failure of the criminal justice system in the US. This failure offers support to the argument that bureaucratic limitations and the ideal of justice are the primary actors in the adversarial relationship in the courts. 

In conclusion, the American justice system needs to be fixed urgently. This system has clearly failed to meet the objectives for which it was set. Every year, thousands of Americans suffer injustice. The adversarial nature of the relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff bears part of the blame for this state of affairs. However, greater blame should be assigned to bureaucratic limitations. These limitations hinder the pursuit of the ideal of justice. 


Black, C. (2011). America’s Justice System has Failed us all. Retrieved 2nd March 2013 From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/conrad-black/us-justice-system_b_1110623.html  

Keating, D., & Lu, D. (2016). Here’s what Crime Rates by County actually look like. Retrieved 2nd March 2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/crime-rates-by-county/  

Laughland, O. (2016). The Human Toll of America’s Public Defender Crisis. Retrieved 2nd March 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/07/public-defender-us-criminal-justice-system  

May, L. (2010). Global Justice and Due Process. Cambridge University Press. 

Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2015). America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. Boston: Cengage Learning. 

Stuntz, W. J. (2008). Inequality and Adversarial Criminal Procedure: Comment. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 164 (1), 47-51. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 17). Ideal of Justice vs. the Limitations of Bureaucracy.


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