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Sunday, 15 May 2011

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Who speaks the truth?

"The law is reason free from passion" - Aristotle

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 disagreements.

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 limited.

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 law"

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 business enough'.

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 couple.

"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 :

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