Ronald Dworkin – Jurisprudence Notes

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Law cannot be understood in isolation to culture of a society. Different societies with different culture can have different meanings of law.

  • In the Anglo-American legal culture, power to make law does not lie with physical force but with moral authority.
  • The characteristic that makes people obey law is its integrity. People will obey even an unjust and unfair law as long as it has integrity as a whole. There are two principles of political integrity:

o   Legislative principle: Legislature should try to make law consistent and morally coherent with the principles established within the legal system.
o   Adjudicative principle: Judiciary should also make an attempt to view the law as coherent as far as possible by interpreting rules and statues in  a manner consistent with the previous regime.

Dworkin on Principles

  • As per Dworkin, Law consist of rules as well as principles.
  • When there is no rule judges may resort to principles already imbedded in the legal system.
  • Dworkin argued that judges must always use principle in hard cases and not use policy decisions.

o   Policy does not require consistent decisions.
o   Principle requires consistent decisions.

  • Dworkin argues that if judges do not make consistent decisions then that will undermine the faith of the individuals in the judiciary.
  • Principle does not automatically answer the legal question and they may be even contradicted by an official rule. The judge must consider the relevant principle or rule while making a decision.
  • Dworkin assumes a fictitious judge, Hercules, who will go through all the rules and the principles till he gets an answer to the problem. He assumes that every question can be answered from within the existing set of rules and principles.
  • Judges could make mistake but the fact that they may err does not imply that there is no right answer to the problem within the legal system.
  • A good legal system endeavours to reduce the overall number of mistakes.
  • Judges could also import morality while making a decision but the morality has to be of the system and not that of the judge.

Dworkin on Law

  • Dworkin rejected theories providing a universal description of law.
  • He considered that each community has its own understanding of law and therefore any attempt to universalize the definition of law is futile.
  • He identified the following characteristics of his Anglo American culture:-

o   Law consists of rights and responsibilities of citizens.
o   Political decisions of the ‘right sort’ are the source of rights and responsibilities. These decisions include the constitution, legislation and judicial decision.
o   State’s coercive acts could only be justified to enforce the rights and responsibilities established by past political acts.

Dworkin on Use of Force

  • Dworkin advocates for limited use of force because if courts decide as per their own whims and fancies the law will become unpredictable and arbitrary.
  • Another advantage was this led to a kind of equality which led to like treatment of persons in like situations. Dworkin did not require absolute equality.
  • Dworkin also insisted on integrity of law to ensure that law meets the moral demand.

Dworkin on Interpretation

  • Dworkin’s concept of integrity of law demanded that laws be interpreted in a manner that they remain consistent to earlier established rules and principles.
  • In hard cases, Hart stated that judges act as deputy of legislature and it is here that Dworkin disagreed.
  • Dworkin expect a judge to not legislate in hard cases but rather gather a solution from the existing set of rules and principles to maintain integrity and consistency.
  • He  identified three stages in the process of interpretation:-

o   Pre-interpretive stage

  • Interpreter (Judge) identifies relevant material such as statutory provisions and case law

o   Interpretive stage

  • Interpreter determine the reason for treating the legal document as relevant to the case
  • Eg:- Application of Copyrights Act in a dispute related to copyright

o   Post-interpretive stage

  • At this stage, interpreter must identify what will better serve the justification he accepts at the interpretive stage
  • The justification is that the system as a whole promotes integrity of the law.

Dworkin on Law as Chain Novel

  • Dworkin compared the law to a chain novel and the role of the judge to that of a chain novelist.
  • Each novelist in the chain interprets the chapters he has been given in order to write a new chapter, which is then added to what the next novelist receives and so on.
  • Each has the job of writing his chapter so as to make the novel being constructed the best it can be, and the complexity of this task models the complexity of deciding a hard case under law as integrity

Dworkin on Law & Morality

  • Dworkin considered a community’s law different from its popular morality.
  • He defined popular morality as the set of opinions about justice and other political and personal virtues that are held as matters of conviction by most members of a community, or perhaps of some moral elite within it.
  • In Anglo American culture, integrity is essential feature of law so accordingly law may fail popular morality while retaining its integrity.
  • He argued that there is moral value in the integrity of law even when its results are unwelcome.

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