truthPerhaps the greatest of all the fallacies entertained by lay people about the law … is that the business of a court of justice is to discover the truth. Its real business is to pronounce upon the justice of particular claims.”1

In 2006 two NSW Supreme Court judges ( Justices McClellan and Ipp) independently of each other wrote papers about fact finding and truth and the practical problems faced by judges in assessing witnesses. Both papers were published in volume 80 of the Australian Law Journal. They both discussed problems with false memory e.g. when subjects in a study “remembered” seeing Bugs Bunny at Disneyland (there are no Warner Bros characters at Disneyland). There is also the difficult problem of when truth is stranger than fiction. Justice Ipp (at 674) tells the following anecdote:

One of [Sir Zelam Cowen]’s aunts, an aged but independent lady with a heavy Polish accent, suffered an unfortunate accident in a London street. She was severely injured, and was taken to hospital where she had difficulty in identifying herself to the hospital staff. They became concerned about her mental state and, in a valiant effort to establish her credentials, she persisted in telling her incredulous audience, ‘My nephew is the Governor General of Australia‘.” [yeah right!]

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

1Sir Frederick Pollock Essays in the Law Macmillan and Co, Oxford, 1922, at 275

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