maintains his advice. After church the next day, the unhappy man writes to the lawyer
putting his affairs in his hands: ‘[w]ithout the slightest hesitation he gave him authority to
act as he thought best’.1
And there it is: the entire life of a courtroom encapsulated in one scene. The litigants
who want something, the law that stands in their way, and facts that can be manipulated,
misstated and lied about in order to achieve what people see as fair for them, as right for
their cause. And then there is what lawyers call the other side, the defendant or the
plaintiff, the applicant or the respondent, who oppose each other and who may not in
our age be subject to the religious scruples that make Karenin hesitate, but who battle to
make facts fit into the definitions that circumscribe the law and allow courts to make
rulings so binding that people may lose liberty or property and find deep unhappiness in
substantial measure. Even without the outcome that ultimately defines Anna Karenina’s
tragedy, every resort to litigation is a deadly business undertaken for the most serious of
reasons. Putting aside paranoid self-represented litigants who join in their cases every
court official and government minister whom they imagine has wronged them, the
litigant for amusement’s sake portrayed by Arthur Conan Doyle in The Hound of the
Baskervilles does not exist.2 The stakes are too high. ‘War is deception’, so they say,3 and
no one resorts to law without some measure of the sense of siege that admits of no other
recourse than the assault on real or imagined injustice that the law allows them.
But, it is wrong to imagine the law courts only as places of deception. Courts are tasked
with searching out untruth and not affirming it and with righting wrongs and not
affirming them. Many ringing pronouncements have been made that justice is at the heart
of any legal system. While many would agree with Socrates’ pronouncement that
adherence to justice leads us to follow better and happier lives,4 no judge would be wise
to forget what the unhappy Job pointed out:5 that the wicked prosper, that no one
reproaches them for their sins and that thousands join in the funeral processions of evil men
to their well-guarded tombs, where even the earth lies gently over their bodies.6 While
justice is the aim of every legal proceeding, truth is the object of every judicial exercise.
The relationship between truth, justice and law is unavoidable. You cannot have one
without the other. John Rawls views justice as ‘the first virtue of social institutions’, with
the requirement that laws and institutions, ‘no matter how efficient and well-arranged’, be
reformed or abolished if they are unjust.7 Truth and justice are linked, with both
described as the ‘first virtues of human activities’, and thus uncompromising.8
In Rawls’ development of his core concept of justice as fairness, he considered that
imperfect procedural justice was ‘exemplified by a criminal trial’, the trial itself being
‘framed to search for and to establish the truth’.9 In his view, perfect procedural justice
was rare ‘if not impossible’ to achieve,10 considering that it seems impossible because
legal rules cannot be designed to ‘always lead to the correct result.’ In this way, there may
1 Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Signet Classics 2002) part 4 chapters 1 to 8.
2 Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (Penguin Classics 2012) chapter 8.
3 Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Pax Librorum 2009) chapter 1.
4 Plato, The Republic (Penguin Classics 2007).
5 Job 21: 27-33.
6 ibid. To state otherwise is to lie: deceit is no comfort, he proclaims.
7 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press 1971) 3.
8 Rawls (n 7) 4.
9 Rawls (n 7) 74.
10 Rawls (n 7) 74.