Serve is a ditransitive verb: “I served him; I served him dinner.” Dinner is served when it is delivered; and a person is served when food is placed in front of him.
In which sense is justice served in American English? Say for example in the sentence “He was led away for justice to be served” which occurred in an American documentary recently broadcast in the UK? It appeared to mean that he would be served with justice.
Does it primarily mean that the offender receives his just deserts, or that justice is honoured by what happens to the offender?
I've tagged this american-english because it seems that using serve with justice is more American than British, particularly when an offender is punished. Brits are more likely to have justice done (“and seen to be done”) or carried out, or even meted out. Those verbs make the usage clear: justice is delivered to the offender. If justice is served in the UK, it could easily mean that a defendant is acquitted (that is, justice is satisfied with a just result).
The CSI episode “Justice is Served” (Season 1, episode 21) played on this dual meaning.