A few recent experiences have brought home how far apart the law and justice are…
Film and television regularly provide evidence of this. There are all the legal shows, A man for all seasons, A few good men, and A dry white season to name a few. These all being fiction, one expects contradiction and conflict to encourage viewing. However, it was being a witness in a civil case which made me realise that the fictional depiction of this issue is reflective of reality. The same day, I was involved in a challenging debate with a legally trained historical-fiction author trialling one of my historical characters for war crimes.
These two experiences served to highlight the difference between historical interrogation which aims for the truth and legal interrogation which seems to forego the truth to win a point. While ‘good’ historians engage with grey areas working to make sense of them, the law in trying to define aspects of life and relationships cannot deal with fluffy or hazy statements.
Historians understand the fickleness of memory, lawyers seem to think memory is fixed even after years. What makes it work in fiction is that we see the grey areas and can fill in the gaps of the legal encounter in court. In real life, the gaps remain and one can only hope and pray that those making the judgement can see through all the legal posturing and that in the end justice will prevail.
Until 2019, more politicians studied law than history according to this study https://studee.com/media/mps-and-their-degrees-media/
Does this explain why history seems to replicate itself and we, as humanity fail to learn from the past? Now that more seem to be studying history, are we likely to see more justice? Or is the curriculum so politically influenced by legal posturing and simplifying matters to clean-cut issues (either/or) that grappling with the complexities of human nature and cultural diversity will remain the jurisdiction of historians? That Politics as a subject dominates the qualification ranks for politicians raises other questions – for another day.
For now, I ponder how we bridge the gap between justice, truth and the legal process.