The Law Is Human and Flawed

What is lawful is not always identical to what is right. Sometimes it falls to a judge to align the two. Ward’s judgment runs to more than eighty closely typed pages. It is beautifully written, delicate and humane, philosophically astute, ethically sensitive, and scholarly, with a wide range of historical and legal references.

The best of judgments, as I was to discover, are similarly endowed. They form a neglected sub-genre of our literature, read in their entirety by almost no one except law studentsand fellow judges. And in the Family Division particularly, they present a hoard of personal drama and moral complexity. They are on fiction’s terrain, even though they are bound, unlike the fortunate novelist, to a world of real people and must deliver a verdict.

But as we all know, verdicts, indeed the whole system, can also be asininetough, even tragic, for its innocent victims, grimly fascinating for the novelist. For the obvious is true, the law is human and flawed. Just like newspapers or medicine or the internet, it embodies all that is brilliant and awful about humankind.

Ian McEwan, writing in The New Republic about the court cases that inspired his new novel.

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Photo: Law Society of Upper Canada, Flickr