From chapter 3 of The Little Book of Biblical Justice – a fresh approach to the Bible’s teaching on justice, by Chris Marshall. Published by Good Books 2005
God’s partiality for the poor, we have suggested, is because of their greater vulnerability to unjust victimization. But the poor are not automatically virtuous. They are not always innocent of wrongdoing themselves. Where accusations are brought against them in court, biblical law requires the judicial system to treat all parties impartially.
"You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great; with justice you shall judge your neighbour." [Leviticus 19:15]
"You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit." [Exodus 23:2-3]
But impartiality is essential only for establishing guilt or culpability. Once that has been decided, the fundamental goal of the biblical justice is to restore what has been damaged by the offending. Restoration is required at several levels – restoration of the victim to wholeness, restoration of the offender to a right standing in the community, and restoration of the wider society to peace and freedom from fear, sin and pollution.
Punishments are often prescribed for particular offenses in biblical legislation. But punishment is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Contrary to what many people think today, punishment as such is not what satisfies the demands of justice. Justice is satisfied by repentance, restoration and renewal. Punishment serves as a mechanism for helping to promote such restoration.