Justice, bikes and Rawls

Julia Salasky

posted on 27 Nov 2015

CrowdJustice founder Julia Salasky muses on Justice, bikes, John Rawls and community power

Bike theft

I had a beautiful second-hand bike that I shipped back with me from Austria, where I was living with the UN. It wasn’t worth much but I’d gone a lot of places with it. When it got nicked outside my flat after one month in London, I went to a second-hand shop around the corner and bought the most beat up, but charming, second hand ride I could find. Earlier this week I left the office, went to unlock it, and had the sinking feeling that it was gone.

If you’ve ridden a bike for more than a couple of years, I would wager that you may have had one nicked at one time or another. (And bike or not, of course you may have had something of true sentimental or financial value nicked). You’ll know that inevitable sinking feeling, followed by one of frustration, and then a wave of injustice. It passes, or it did in my case, because it is, after all, just a bike. But that evening I swelled with a discontent that was tied up both in the absence of the thing but also this idea that someone else who didn’t deserve my bike was now riding it or selling it or just looking at it, and it wasn’t theirs to have.

A theory of Justice

That feeling of injustice can be extremely powerful. But what is justice? One of the greatest political philosophers of the 21st century, John Rawls, and suggested we enclose ourselves in a “veil of ignorance”, so that if we weren’t born in our own circumstance, what we think we would want of our societies. It’s a sort of thought experiment in empathy – if you didn’t know if you would be born rich or poor, strong or vulnerable, how would you want the poor and the vulnerable to be treated?


We’ve been thinking about this a great deal in the context of CrowdJustice. We started up because on a macro, societal level, it is hard for a lot of people (and not just the poor and the vulnerable, though of course that demographic can be hit the hardest) to access the law and legal advice. This is for all sorts of reasons but lack of funding is primary among them.

What’s been really powerful to watch as communities come together to fund cases, too, is the injustice at the human, individual level, the cases when people feel wronged or that decisions are being made that will detrimentally affect their community.

Take for example Denise Brewster, a Northern Irish woman who’s going to the Supreme Court early next year, and who was denied her long-term partner’s occupational pension when he died suddenly, because she hadn’t filled out a form. What’s powerful about that case is that it’s not just Denise who has suffered (both at Lenny’s death, but also at the injustice of the system) but this issue will, as she so eloquently says, be something that will affect many others.

Or the group Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), which powerfully argued that the doctrine of joint enterprise goes to the heart of the British justice system.

Or one local engineer who tried with his community to protect a Victorian heritage site (a locally adored spillway) from being paved over.

When communities help these passionate people take their cases forward it is an exceptionally powerfully thing – a groundswell of support to rectify a sense of real injustice. Fail or succeed in court, these cases strengthen our sense at CrowdJustice that the law and the justice system works, and that is available to everyone, big and small, to use, to be able to fight their corner.

In the case of my bike, there won’t be judicial recourse. But it’s useful sometimes to feel, even if momentarily, that sense of injustice, and to find empathy with others who experience true injustice on a much greater scale.

Julia Salasky is the founder of CrowdJustice

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