Tuesday, May 31, 2011

English and Inquisitorial law

The Chicago Sun-Times editorializes today on a proposal to encourage questions from jurors in civil trials. Unfortunately, the article perpetuates a critical misunderstanding of our system of law.

The purpose of trials under our English system is not entirely to get at the truth, at least not by any human means. We presume, with humility perhaps tragically lacking under the alternative Napoleonic system, that ultimate Truth may remain beyond mortal ken. When our conflicts go to court, we do what we're actually capable of doing as imperfect beings: we fight it out. Trials are adversarial rituals intended to ensure that even where there must be a winner and a loser, as few bystanders as possible should be hurt by the process of decision.

Carefully limiting violent conflict is a far more practical human purpose than establishing any Secure Reign of Exalted Truth. From the Inquisition, to the black gate and hot mushroom cloud of 1945, we have history's lessons against arrogance. Incidentally, jury service is often a brilliant exercise in this precise social reality!

So, in a much darker way, is any work which gets a person up-close-and-personal with state psychiatry. Mental health systems function on an inquisitorial model. The "doctor" (psychiatrist) knows The Truth - whether a person's chosen behavior is a symptom of disease, what label a person deserves, and what should be done about bad behavior (e.g., forced drugging). Courts abdicate their traditional role of decision in favor of this Medical Truth. A disparaging remark maliciously scrawled in a chart by a medicalized prison guard ("Security Therapy Aide") becomes a scientific fact in court!

Psychiatry degrades both medicine and the law. Psychiatry kills civilized humanity.

1 comment:

  1. One of the joys of the adversarial system is that if you're better off and you want to spend the money, you can pay for an expert witness, who will contradict everything the state claims. Psychiatric expert witnesses are no different. Indeed, sometimes when the defendant is impoverished and being charged with a crime, psychiatrists for the prosecution and the defense can't even come to an agreement about what's wrong. It's not a particularly science-y profession.