Who speaks the truth?
"The law is reason free from passion" -
Law became sexy in the mid-1970s. Up until the dawn of the '70s era,
the hallowed halls of justice was more or less a male bastion. Not that
there were not any female lawyers, but there were not many. Today, it is
a totally different story I still find this a bewildering transformation
in Sri Lankan society.
At the time when males dominated the Court houses, I thought that
there could be nothing quite so boring as a court case or a legal brief.
But then enter the horde of feminine brigade in to the portal of the
court room and litigation was never the same. Perhaps, unwittingly, it
could be the cause why we are such a litigious nation. One thing is for
certain - since the advent of the feminine brigade, law has thoroughly
permeated our popular culture. But I wonder whether it has also taken
over the way we think. I'm not talking about the how inclined to
litigation we are in the Sri Lanka. I'm talking about how we talk.
In the courtroom, the truth is arrived at in an adversarial manner.
There are two sides. They present their cases.
They examine and cross-examine. They challenge and dispute and argue.
And then the judge or the jury decides which side wins. The prosecutor
and the defense don't help each other. They don't try to arrive at the
truth together. They are matter and anti-matter - and if the two sides
were to somehow touch, the legal system would explode. There are other
models present - the more congenial atmosphere of alternative dispute
resolution. But the essential confrontation between two frequently
irreconcilable versions of the truth has had a powerful influence over
the way we interact.
We as a people have no aptitude for conversation. We lecture,
bombast, pour out cliches, chew-up newsprint, and make the other party
tune out. In the court room, the two sides know that at least they have
an audience. But in all the invective that we unleash on ourselves - and
I am part of this incessant outpouring of opinion - we are either
preaching to the choir or reaching deaf ears. Not that I want a stifling
consensus to replace a sterile confrontation in all matters of
I want to see informed discussion on how we can deal with the obvious
problems all of us face - the economic crisis; the disastrous war that
is refusing to go away long after the war was won; the impending
energy-environmental apocalypse; and, a host of other problems of the
mundane kind that affects us on a daily basis.
Instead, what we have is flame and counter-flame about the issues
that is neither the problem nor the solution.
The amount of real deliberation, in terms of exchange of ideas, is so
However, while on the subject of law, let us examine what law is: Law
is a system of rules and guidelines, usually enforced through a set of
institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways
and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Legal
systems elaborate rights and responsibilities in a variety of ways. Law
provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry, into legal history,
philosophy, economic analysis or sociology. Law also raises important
and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice.
"In its majestic equality", said the author Anatole France in 1894,
"the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the
streets and steal loaves of bread." In a typical democracy, the central
institutions for interpreting and creating law are the three main
branches of government, namely an impartial judiciary, a democratic
legislature, and an accountable executive.
To implement and enforce the law and provide services to the public,
a government's bureaucracy, the military and police are vital. While all
these organs of the state are creatures created and bound by law, an
independent legal profession and a vibrant civil society inform and
support their progress.
Thus, if this then is what law is supposed to be, who are lawyers? A
lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the
law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practising
In my life, I have had the great privilege of counting amongst my
friends, very many lawyers of fame whose counsel, support and kindness
has enriched my life.
Even to this day, contrary to the commonly held belief that a lawyer
is someone skilled in circumvention of the law, I have had the pleasure
of interacting with and enjoying their company and advice.
However, more often than not, I have found that the power of the
lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law. Whenever I was inclined towards
litigation, a lawyer friend of mine used to always tell me that a bad
settlement is better than a good case. So did Abraham Lincoln, to the
lawyers of his time, say: 'Discourage litigation. Persuade your
neighbours to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer
has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be
However, with law becoming sexy, I suppose none of this advise will
hold good in present days.
Here is something a lawyer friend sent me when I told him that I
intend to bring this subject up in 'Can We Talk':
On their way to get married, a young Catholic couple was involved in
a fatal car accident. The couple found themselves seated outside the
Pearly Gates waiting for St. Peter to process them into Heaven. While
waiting they began to wonder; could they possibly get married in Heaven?
When St. Peter arrived, they asked him if they could get married in
Heaven. St. Peter said "I don't know. This is the first time anyone has
asked. Let me go find out", and he left. The couple sat and waited for
an answer.... For a couple of months. While they waited, they discussed
the pros and cons.
If they were allowed to get married in Heaven, should they get
married, what with the eternal aspect of it all? "What if it doesn't
work? Are we stuck in Heaven together forever?" Another month passed.
St. Peter finally returned, looking somewhat bedraggled. Yes," he
informed the couple, "You can get married in Heaven." "Great" said the
"But we were just wondering what if things don't work out? Could we
also get a divorce in Heaven?". St. Peter, red-faced with anger, slammed
his clipboard on the ground. "What's wrong?" asked the frightened
couple. "OH, COME ON!!!" St. Peter shouted.
"It took me 3 months to find a priest up here! Do you have ANY idea
how long it'll take to find a lawyer?"
Well readers, see you this day next week. Until then, keep thinking,
keep laughing. Life is mostly about these two activities.For views,
reviews, encomiums and brick-bats :