What Are the Scales of Justice?

Renee Booker

Since the first modern-day legal system began in Rome, the scales of justice have been used to symbolize the balance between truth and fairness sought after in the justice system. Although often depicted alone, the scales are frequently held by Lady Justice, or Justitia, in Latin, the Roman goddess of justice. Along with the concept of truth and fairness, the image is also used to depict the balance between the support and opposition a case has, with Lady Justice responsible for weighing the two and reaching a fair and just verdict.

A beam scale is often used to represent the scales of justice.
A beam scale is often used to represent the scales of justice.

Throughout the world, the scales of justice are an ever-present symbol of the ideals aspired to in the legal system. They remind attorneys, judges, and juries of the heavy task before them. Each side of the scales can be thought of as one side of a case before the court. As each side presents evidence and argument, the scales tip to one side or the other. The judge, or jury, is responsible for determining which side is heavier when all the evidence and argument has been presented.

Lady Justice is often depicted with a blindfold, the source of the phrase "justice is blind."
Lady Justice is often depicted with a blindfold, the source of the phrase "justice is blind."

The origins of Lady Justice are thought to date as far back as the ancient Egyptian goddesses Maat and Isis, and later the Greek goddess Dike, the goddess of mortal justice. The Roman goddess generally carries the scales, a sword, and wears a blindfold — each being an accoutrement borrowed from one of the previous goddesses. Her sword is symbolic of the power of justice. The blindfold often worn by Lady Justice is where the term "justice is blind" comes from in modern speech.

Lady Justice sits atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London.
Lady Justice sits atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London.

Countless sculptures and paintings have been created based on the scales of justice. It is commonplace to see a representation in one form or the other of the scales in courthouses and courtrooms as a reminder to the participants in the legal system of the importance of justice and fairness. Presents which incorporate the image make excellent gifts for lawyers, judges, or anyone involved in the legal system.

The scales of justice remind judges of the responsibility they have.
The scales of justice remind judges of the responsibility they have.

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