Does Law Understand ?

When I commenced studying law I had a fear. That was that as each component of this acquired knowledge began to be assembled with other aspects of law each would begin to complement the other to develop a “rationality”. I feared that a continuousness of associated values could evolve into a unitary whole, seemingly a “reasoning”.  My concern was that this “reasonableness” might become autonomous, self fulfilling, self proving and self-perpetuating. Dangerously, the discipline of law might escape a relationship with the “real world”.


Naturally, I was comparing this with medicine. In medicine there is also a rational continuum. The difference, however, between law and medicine, is that medicine reverts at every stage to the biology. It is continually tested against biology because the biological success of medicine is the imperative guideline.


Law, on the other hand, although reflecting intuitive human values (see discussion elsewhere) appeared to me to be progressively distancing from those values. It has long been speculated that systems of law were not systems of justice. It was that which concerned me greatly, having watched legal activity first hand for many years as an expert medical witness. Much of what I saw as a witness in court demonstrated that the system of legal reasoning became self-reinforcing and the parameters of decisions bore progressively less a relationship with the world as it is known to the layman. Added to this was the construct of a system of jargon. It is quite true that medicine exists in a realm of jargon of its own. However, another difference between law and medicine was that the jargon of the latter was related (and reverted) to the terminology of biology. On the other hand, the jargon of law bore no relationship to the terminology of human behaviour.


As a child I perplexed my parents by asking why I spoke two languages. Those poor people were understandably perplexed. My query was that it seemed that for every word which had a certain quality of sound and format there appeared to be another word with another type of sound and format. For example house could be replaced by mansion, or tool be replaced by implement.


Later, naturally, I realized that I was speaking two languages because of the input of other languages into the continuum of Anglo Saxon which, for all practical purposes, was sufficient in its own right. I therefore could have learned Anglo Saxon and in that way been provided with sufficient language for all usual tasks.


In later life I came to realise that Law and medicine existed in two unrelated domains. Unlike English, each distant term (one for law, the other for medicine) was not interchangeable. The two sets of jargon were not mutually intelligible.


I have worked with lawyers who have practiced “injury law” for most of their careers. Yet, to my repeated astonishment, they knew little or nothing of medicine. They could not speak the jargon of medicine (although they made as though they could.



About jp

Orthopaedic Surgeon
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