The word justice is usually associated with courts of law. We might say that justice has been done when a man's innocence or guilt has been proved beyond doubt. Justice is part of the complex machinery of the law. Those who seek it, undertake an arduous journey and can never be sure that they will find it. Judges, however wise or eminent, are human and can make mistakes.
There are rare instances when justice almost ceases to be an abstract conception. Reward or punishment are out quite independent of human interference. At such times, justice acts like a living force. When we use a phrase like it serves him right, we are, in part, admitting that a certain set of circumstances has enabled justice to act of its own accord.
When a thief was caught on the premises of a large fur store one morning, the shop assistants must have found it impossible to resist the temptation to say 'it serves him right'. The shop was an old-fashioned one with many large, disused fireplaces and tall, narrow chimneys. Towards midday, a girl heard a muffled cry coming from behind one of the walls. As the cry was repeated several times, she ran to tell the manager who promptly rang up the fire-brigade. The cry had certainly come from one of the chimneys, but as there were so many of them, the firemen could not be certain which one it was. They located the right chimney by tapping at the walls and listening for the man's cries. After chipping through a wall which was eighteen inches thick, they found that a man had been trapped in the chimney. As it was extremely narrow, the man was unable to move, but the firemen were eventually able to free him by cutting a huge hole in the wall. The sorry-looking, blackened figure that emerged, at once admitted that he had tried to break into the shop during the night but had got stuck in the chimney. He had been there for nearly ten hours. Justice had been done even before the man was handed over to the police.