The term "Jersey justice" is an idiom, which is a phrase meant to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally. This particular idiom is often used in British English and means severe justice. It is typically used in situations in which the punishment for a crime or offense seems to be far out of proportion with the act deserving of punishment. For example, if someone is sentenced to years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, some people might consider this an example of Jersey justice. In some cases, however, the idiom is also used to describe acts of retribution that do not involve the legal system.
Though it can prove confusing to people who are trying to learn a new language, some phrases are not meant to be translated literally. Instead, they are commonly used regional expressions, which means people who hear them and live in an area in which they are frequently used usually know what they mean automatically and do not puzzle over their literal meanings. There are many idioms a person may hear depending on where he lives, and Jersey justice is one of them. It is most commonly used in British English and means severe punishment.
An individual may find it easier to understand what Jersey justice means if he considers an example of how it is used. One example, he might consider involves theft. Centuries ago, a person in some places could face a very severe punishment for stealing — instead of going to jail or having to repay the person from whom he stole, he may have faced having his hand cut off. Since, for many people, this punishment is far out of proportion with the crime, this is an example of Jersey justice. In modern times, a good example, may be a situation in which someone receives several years in prison for something relatively small like stealing a package of meat or slapping another person.
Sometimes examples of Jersey Justice do not involve the legal system. This sort of situation may occur when a person repeatedly strikes another person for giving him an unpleasant look or in response to name calling. An individual may even call it Jersey justice when a party shoots another for taking his parking space. In both cases, the punishment a person receives is far out of proportion with his actions.