USA people tend not to travel very much outside the USA, and often do not even own a passport - so they often assume other countries have the same kind of crooked, rigged, oppressive legal system, even though it's actually much better in every other developed nation.
In terms of corruption, bribery and oppression of the innocent, the USA legal system is as bad as what you can imagine occurs in a sleazy and totally corrupt country in the developing world. The long period of wealth and USA imperial power, seems to have encouraged USA judicial corruption past the point of no return. It is a giant monster of a system, fuelled and funded by the richest resources of any country on earth. There is nothing like it.
It is truly better in all other developed, advanced nations, than it is in America. Americans are more oppressed by the law, by lawyers, and by crooked courts, than in any other developed economy. It's a funny equation - in America, more lawyers equal more crime, more prisoners, and less justice.
In comparing other Western societies, it can be argued that the Anglo-American type of legal system, with its roots in English law, and where lawyers can make lots of money arguing about 'precedents', is really the inferior one, because it tends to overly enlarge the place of law in people's lives. And the USA has taken the defects of this system, to an absurd extreme.
On the European continent, with its differing system with roots in the Roman and French civil codes, the law is a lesser part of social life, and there is less general fear of law, of lawyers, and of abuse by the legal system. In Western Europe, there is hardly anyone in prison compared to the USA - 1 out of 1000 in many Western European countries, versus 1 out of 150 in the USA. And there is much less fear of assets being seized through police seizures and judicial extortions conducted in the courts.
Although it does seem that Europe is now falling under the influence of all those Hollywood movies and TV shows with USA courtroom scenes, and is starting to be influenced by USA-based legal trends - including judges taking a more 'activist' role in trying to shape public policy.
In the English kind of system, there is a legal culture that is based on lawyers arguing at great length about precedents and historical cases, every time they are in court. The lawyers like this because they make more money from rich clients, and can just argue endlessly about this and about that. It makes for more money and more of a cult of lawyers.
In Great Britain, Canada and Australia, for example, which all share the same roots in the English legal system, you can see a fraction - of the American cult of law and lawsuits. The British, in particular, are starting to develop a little bit of the American-style zest for lawsuits, maybe after watching so many American movies about lawsuits, and realizing they could play the same game. And sometimes, from these countries, you can read and hear about cases of lawyer corruption, that sound like the typical American corruption. But it is not anywhere near as widespread a problem in the other Anglo countries, as in the United States.
Even though they share the same English-based common law legal system, none of these countries has the same degree of American-style legal disease. In all of them, there is less crime, a smaller percentage of people in prison, fewer lawsuits, and much less oppression by lawyers and judges.
The situation is even better on the continent of Europe, where the legal systems with roots in the Roman and French legal codes, function in a simpler way. Living in Europe, many people hardly think about the law in their lives. There's quite little crime, by USA standards, and very few people in prison. Prison sentences are usually pretty short, too, especially for a first offense.
In Europe, lawsuits have been relatively rare; things like that have been often handled informally. Lawsuits are actively discouraged, especially silly or nonsensical ones; and there can be heavy penalties for those who file nonsense cases. And there is no similar cult of lawyers as in the USA. Lawyers are just other working professional people, and often don't make as much money.
In Europe and elsewhere, the law and courts are just not as big of a factor in people's lives. Overall, people more often trust the courts, and expect justice when they go to court. They expect the judge to be fair, and not political at all, even though the judge might have some private and very strong political opinions.
In Europe, you tend to hear very little of American-style complaints about legal and judicial corruption. The judges tend to very explicitly stay out of politics. They have traditionally tried to avoid 'inventing new law from the judicial bench'. The classic European idea is that laws and policies are for the parliament or legislature, and the judges very specifically have tended to defer uncertain matters to the legislators, who have long been more considered the voice of the people.
Europe has always remained much closer and more sensitive to the idea of popular revolution, ever since the events of France in 1789. In countries that are significantly smaller than the USA, it is much easier to have 'people power', people in the streets - although as we have seen in various 'colour revolutions' linked to the CIA and various oligarchs, such 'revolutions' can also be manipulated events as well.
The wars in Europe and their aftermath, have also been the source of revolutionary circumstances. In the USA, the judges are more arrogant, feeling themselves the high priests and kings of a giant empire that has seemed like it would last forever. In Europe, the judges have more humility ... huge wars and revolutions and societal upheavals have taken place, witnessed by people still living. People are more aware this can happen again. Although now in the USA as the 2020s begin, the United States seems to be edging closer to revolutionary circumstances as well.
There are a number of more particular reasons why other advanced nations, in Europe, Canada and elsewhere, have better legal systems than in America. One thing is the fact that in all these other countries, lawyers are an independent profession, which is not as much under the control of anyone else, whereas in America, lawyers must be somewhat more like slaves to the judges, or else lose their right to practice law.
But the biggest overall reason why other developed nations have much better legal systems, is because they have somewhat more genuine democracy, and governments that are more in fear and awe of the common people - an aspect of being closer to revolutions and the revolutionary heritage, as noted above. Democracy that is not just a word, but a real, effective, multi-party democracy, where people feel they have representatives who really speak for them. And democracy is at the top of the political system, not the judges, which makes the courts a better place.
In a typical European country, you have a thriving multi-party political system in the parliament - not like in America where there are the somewhat phoney 'two parties' who mostly both get their money from the same corporations and wealthy class of political donors.
In Continental Europe, there might be a few large political parties, but also several smaller ones, thanks to 'proportional representation', so even small parties have seats in parliament. If your party gets 10 per cent of the vote, you may get 10 per cent of the seats in a parliament. Whereas in the USA, a political party can get one-third of the vote, and have no seats in Congress at all.
In Europe, the political parties cover a much bigger range of views, and it is much easier to start a political party. It takes much less money to start a party or campaign. So there are left-wingers, right wingers, socialists, ex-communists, animal rights advocates, people who like big business, people who hate big business, people who want more rights for working people, people who represent immigrant-heritage citizens, and so on. It is lively, and even fun. So even the smaller political groups, get a voice, and get heard. Most people get to see some elected representatives yelling and shouting on their behalf. It is rather satisfying, even if you don't have the biggest party, because even the minority point of view influences the law-making or at least has its voice heard.
Also, the government is often a coalition of various parties. And the prime minister, is herself or himself, very close to the elected representatives, and can lose her his job tomorrow if he does something wrong. The parliament can vote, and call a new election; you don't need an impeachment.
The parliament system seems to work better, than the big USA two-party political machine. In Europe, if the public is concerned about an issue, it is often debated quickly in parliament. People do not wait for years for some judge to decide something, after a long string of lawsuits, as happens in the USA.
In Europe, people do not worry so much about the politics or appointment of judges, as they do in the USA. In Europe, judges come from the full range of the political spectrum, but they have limited powers. No one worries about appointing some high court judge, and then being imprisoned by that judge's decisions for the next 20 years because he has been allowed to exercise lifelong political power over the country, as in the USA.
People in Europe expect the judges to be professional and not twist the law to suit their purposes. If there are changes needed in the law, the parliament will do that itself, not the judges. The judge can protect the innocent, but he does not have the USA-type ability to manage the political life of the country. In Europe, people look to the parliament, not the judges, for making changes in law and in society. And that is always available. They never feel trapped, like Americans do with their Supreme Court. The parliament can change things right away, if change is needed.
Of course in Europe things are changing, and many things can be criticised. To a certain degree, Europe's supra-natonal structures, the EU and Council of Europe and the international courts of European justice and human rights, have been setting policies through judicial rulings, that are not always well-received by individual European nations and groups of citizens.
From a certain, more superficial point of view, Europe can seem 'less free' to USA citizens who focus on a few particular social practices. Although tens of millions of European civilian citizens own handguns, shotguns, and rifles, Europe does not have the 'gun carry' laws common amongst USA states. Some of the commentary on historical and social issues you find on USA websites, is judicially considered 'racist' or illegal under European national laws, and there a few people jailed in Europe for things that in the USA don't raise criminal-law issues. Although the USA internet tech companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook, now censor and erase much material from the internet now without even suggesting the material is non-legal.
But in the big picture of how free your life and personal freedom and property is, Europe is the better place, simply because it does not have the huge machine of legal injustice and human life destruction, that one sees in USA courts and lawyers.
Yet in the USA, there is this whole cult of the law and lawyers and judges, promoting their power and hiding their tendencies to corruption. There is a USA fiction that the law is 'above' politics, plus 'supreme' like the Supreme Court, when actually of course, USA judges are supremely political. The false image of judges in America, promotes them as a kind of 'priesthood' of law, at the same time that judges are given all kinds of absurd power, which really should belong to the people themselves.
In Europe, it has long been understand that it works better the other way around. In Europe, they don't pretend the judges are gods, so they haven't been putting courts higher than the democracy. They have historically understood the danger that judges might start to get political - so that precisely has kept the judges from being political, exactly because everyone understands the danger, and there are multiple political parties to keep an eye on things. In Europe, if some judge starts getting political or twisted in his decisions, then it is likely that someone in parliament will start complaining about it, and steps may well be taken to restore fairness and modesty to the judge's role.
Instead of a cult of law and judges, there has been more of a genuine respect for voters and democracy, which ends up being better, even for the courts and the judges, who wind up being more truly of service to the public.
In a nutshell, there's no substitute for true, genuine popular democracy, and in the USA the smothering of democracy has long been underway, in part by the judges, and the cult of the law and lawyers, taking its place. Big corporations and the wealthy prefer judicial dominance, because it helps them to maintain power and profits, along with the 'two-party system' which quashes all other parties to help maintain the whole scheme. In Europe, corporations and rich people must be more socially responsible, because there are usually several political parties in parliament who are not afraid to question them.
In the USA, democracy has, sadly, just become a shadow of itself now, despite all the USA boasting about the 'land of freedom'. Big corporations and oligarchs in the USA, pay for both of the two political parties, which both support the cult of lawyers and judges as a way to serve the wealthy against the commoners.
Because there has been much less effective political opposition allowed in a system rigged both politically and judicially, the USA cult of judges and lawyers is out of control, and there is almost no restraint on their power. This is the background of the endless particular cases of legal and judicial corruption in the USA, with so many tragic victims.
Click here to go back to the FAQ table of contents.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.