Comparative Law beneath its Overlays

On of the really annoying things about comparative law is the amount of other stuff that gets in the way.

Language and procedure, understandably enough, but patronising and jingoistic attitudes, credulous reporting, spurious claim-making, propagandists blowing their own horn and self-important windbags blowing their own trumpet, co-opting of the media into personal political skirmishes, fuelling moral panics (for various reasons), and more besides, do not help – and perhaps that is the intention.

Take a recent trawl through the Thesis Sea, of theses touching on a relatively recent international case, and the thesis writers have come across all of these things. The foundational concept is language, and how it is used to present reality and reinforce perceived reality.

Here’s a list:

  • Bc. Květa Suchá, “Concept of National Identity in News Reporting” (2010, Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English and American Studies: English Language and Literature)
  • Daniela Oelke, “Visual Document Analysis: Towards a Semantic Analysis of Large Document Collections” (2010, Universitat Konstanz im Fachbereich Informatik und Informationswissenschaft)
  • Shelley Dove, “Doubly deviant, doubly damned?: The Response to Violent Female Offenders” (2011, University of Portsmouth, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies)
  • Andrew J. Mascelli, “Impact of the Italian Language and Culture on the Amanda Knox Trials” (2013, The Pennsylvania State University Schreyer Honors College – Department of Spanish, Italian And Portuguese)
  • Deidre Freyenberger, “Amanda Knox: A Content Analysis of Media Framing in Newspapers Around the World” (2013, East Tennessee State University, Professional Communication)
  • Ulrike Tabbert, “Crime through a corpus: The linguistic construction of offenders, victims and crimes in the German and UK press” (2013, University of Huddersfield)
  • Rosalind Theresa Waterhouse, “Satanic abuse, false memories, weird beliefs and moral panics: Anatomy of a 24-year investigation” (2014, City University London, Department of Journalism)
  • Alexx Bonovich, “Masked Victims: Examining the Violence of Femme Fatales in Contemporary Film Noir Cinema” (2015, DePaul University, Media and Cinema Studies)
  • Louise White, “”Labelled a murderer” – A discursive analysis of Amanda Knox’s construction of innocence” (2015, Loughborough University)
  • Alisa Narbutas, “Knocking Amanda Knox – How Newspapers put Women on Trial” (2016, Faculty of Journalism & Media Communications, Griffith College Dublin)
  • Emily Meredith Bosch, “Alter Egos / Alternative Rhetorics: Belle Knox’s Rhetorical Construction of Pornography and Feminism” (2016, Communication Studies and the Graduate Faculty of the University of Kansas)
  • Ella Fegitz, “Post-feminism in Italy and the legacy of Berlusconism: an analysis of media representations of female subjectivity and sexuality in the age of Berlusconi.” (2017, Goldsmiths College, University of London, Media and Communications Department)
  • William B. Ollayos, “Women On Trial: Translating Femininity Through Journalism” (2017, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Comparative Literature)
  • Bianca Szkuta, “Investigation into the variables affecting DNA transfer in forensic casework” (2017, Deakin University)
  • Danielle Lenth, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Justice: A Comparative Legal Study of the Amanda Knox Case” (2014, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law)
  • Bc. Irena Selucká, “Tense Choice in Indirect Speech” (2011, Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Palackého, Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky)

Other than the DNA one, they’re all about language.

The one about Berlusconi might require a bit of explanation: he has been waging a long-running campaign against the Italian judiciary, and playing in the political space while owning a large chunk of the media.

Besides the US-sourced generic panic about Satan, there was also a moral panic in Italy at the time relating to foreigners and attacks on local women. And a general-purpose but vaguer panic about students and drugs and morals. The media (mostly male) just lapped it up and outraged all over the place while having an excuse for talking about sex in public (the talk, that is). On top of everything else, some ‘journalists’ had ulterior motives and scores to settle…


Waterhouse uses a phrase, “credulous and uncritical”, which to me seems apt in general, for describing what “reporting” is, in the copy-paste era.

Tabbert finds that reporting on crime uses linguistic features to “pre-convict offenders and to invoke a feeling of insecurity and fear in the public”.

Dove finds “public opinion is struggling to maintain pace [with gender equality]. This appears to be illustrated prominently within the responses to female violent offenders as it appears deeply instilled and pervasive stereotypes remain persistent.” And then that overlaps with noir presentation of narratives, which feed back into expectations and reporting.

As Oelke says, “manually evaluating the available sources is often not feasible”. That is the crux of the matter: who do we trust?

Lawyers, by definition, have to read a lot and know how expensive and time-wasting superficial reading is. Constructing reality through language is what they do as a day job. They may have an answer to the question about trust, if they don’t contribute to the problem.



Pascal, thinking, courtesy of GoogleBooks:

“Talk of humility is a matter of pride for the vainglorious, and of humility for the humble. Likewise, Scepticism and doubt are matters of affirmation for the affirmers. Few people speak humbly of Humility, chastely of Chastity, doubtingly of Doubt. We are but liars, duplicitous and contradictory to ourselves.We hide from ourselves, and we mask ourselves from ourselves.”


On a typographical note, note the daisy ornament marking the paragraph,



Legal Translating

Rainbow with a foot in both camps

Being an interpreter in court requires a depth of skill and mastery not much seen elsewhere.




Translating a court case and judgment, from one jurisdiction and system to another, requires an even greater mastery.

You can’t just go, “X is like Y” (even though it may be), because it is too misleading for those who have never been on or seen the other side.

The French for ‘London’ is Paris.

On the other hand, with willing listeners in the tour group, two systems, although different at street-level, will have similarities and equivalences at a more abstract, functional level: deciding a question of fact, for example, will be the task of the tribunal of fact (however constituted), and so a court-panel in France or Italy, made up of career judges and community citizens acting as a board, can be referred to as a ‘jury’ in that respect, even though how they are selected and how they enter and leave the courtroom and where they sit is different. (More like a grand jury than the petty jury of TV shows.)*


*TV is another influence on how people** perceive a court case  should be like.

**Including law students.

Bronte, Sterope, Arges

‘Better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick’ – proverb

From Hesiod’s Theogony 139-141:
“Then he made from his great heart, Bronte Sterope and violent-surging Arges, they who would give Zeus his thunder and would make his lightning bolts”

— from the Italian of: Giulio Guidorizzi,
Kosmos – L’universo dei Greci: L’età arcaica (2016)
[EinaudiScuola, 2016], p 280. ISBN 9788828617907
Kosmos: The World of the Greeks I – The Archaic Age
“the Cyclops were well-named, because they had only one round eye in their forehead”

un solo occhio rotondo avevano nella fronte

Volcanoes. Obviously.

The Titanomachy would have been a sight to see (from a long way away).
Zeus sky-high (and new-born fully-formed Athena with her Aegis) and a cloud of winter slowly approaching, like a wolf eating the sun. Not to mention the earthshaking coming from the sea (Poseidon). Memories of Mount Doom.
Thera is the most likely candidate, in the circumstances.



A recent night-time photo of Mt Agung erupting brought this musing on.

And in ancient times, the groaning sounds coming from underground would have fed into other thoughts, too: the place where Zeus imprisoned his enemies for eternity.

Adopting the Mirror Position

Legal reporting without legal reporting

From a 1996 paper:

 “In most jurisdictions, psychopathy is considered to be an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor in determining criminal responsibility.”

—  Robert D Hare, “Psychopathy: A clinical construct whose time has come?”,

in Curt R Bartol and Anne M Bartol (eds), Current Perspectives in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Behavior, 3rd edition, (2012) [Sage Publications, 2012], 94-105, p 103. Originally published  in 1996 in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol 23, No 1, pp25-54.


Hypothesis: If the ethical centre of the brain connects to conscious self-awareness through only, say, two or three neurons, and those neurons are functionally compromised, then it would not be surprising that overriding ethical inhibitions would require little effort in such circumstances; alternatively, if the neurons are functioning and the conclusion they transmit is defective, for example by there being an inability to imagine oneself in the place of others, or in imagining one’s responses to others’ responses, then it would not be surprising that decision choices become self-calculating and self-centred in a skewed way, being unable to factor in what other people would consider to be naturally expected responses and choices by others: a flawed world-view interaction model is in play, in other words.  So the ability for empathy fails for that person.

Incorrect processing, or correct processing on incomplete inputs, may produce the right answer by chance every now and then, but incorrect answers are not prevented. (There may be punishment by others after the event, though, if the offender is caught.)




In academic circles, the abstract of an article provides a summary of the contents and subject matter of the article. In the legal report of a case, the headnote looks very much like an abstract – it is at the start of the case report and is providing some sort of a summary – and this could mislead non-lawyers into mistaking the headnote for an actual abstract of the case, and that misconception could in turn lead them down logically-reasoned, but flawed, paths of reasoning.

A case headnote is someone else’s interpretation of what the case is about and its potential legal significance.

Lawyers are trained to read the case itself.

In a textbook for students:



Construct an interpretation map of the facts of the case in The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd [1953] EWCA Div  (

—  Nick James, Critical Legal Thinking, 3rd edition, (2011) [Pearson, 2011], p 32.


In any case, in deciding whether to adopt a headnote as a correct statement of the case requires reading the law report anyway.

Adopting the headnote as one’s own position on the case without reading that case is a rather peculiar way of proceeding.

Adopting a newspaper headline as the position on the case is even more bizarre.




In 2008, and reprinted in the same criminology book:


In criminal law, confession evidence is common, potent, and highly regarded. … Yet confessions are fallible.

Saul M Kassin, “Confession Evidence: Commonsense Myths and Misconceptions”,  in Bartol and Bartol, pp130-139. Originally published in 2008 in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol 35, No 10, pp1309-1322


The article continues with some stats:


12% of …

3% to 4% of …

1% to 2% of …

In North America, police investigators recently estimated that 4.78% of …


The 4.78% stands out. (Coincidentally, the round numbers come from other studies; the fractional from one where the author himself was lead author.)

Why not ‘over 4%’, or ‘almost 5%’, or ‘less than 5%’?

One possibility is that there is a confusion between accuracy and precision (since being a psychologist doesn’t guarantee an expertise or competency in statistics).

To get 4.78% in terms of non-fractional persons needs 478 out of 10,000 (and 10k seems rather large, in its own right) or, as a minimum, 239 out of 5,000: anything less than that and we’re back into fractional persons again.



A scan via Google shows that 631 people participated in a survey, and that (some of them) estimated the 4.78%.


By questionnaire, 631 police investigators reported on their interrogation beliefs and practices—the first such survey ever conducted. Overall, participants estimated that they were 77% accurate at truth and lie detection, that 81% of suspects waive Miranda rights, that the mean length of interrogation is 1.6 hours, and that they elicit self-incriminating statements from 68% of suspects, 4.78% from innocents.


Further, the 4.78 is an adjustment:


We then asked participants to separately estimate confession rates for suspects who were guilty and innocent. Predictably, these questions drew radically different estimates. Respondents estimated that 69.48% of guilty suspects provide a confession (Med = 75; Range = 0 to 100; SD = 23.91; N = 584). Separately, they estimated that 40.24% provided partial admissions and 33.83% provided full confessions. In contrast, they estimated that 23.30% of innocent suspects provide some form of confession (Med = 5; Range = 0 to 100; SD = 33.33; N = 524). A significant degree of Skewness (2.30; SE = .11) and Kurtosis (4.24; SE = .22) was noted in the distribution of false confession estimates. Omission of outliers succeeded in normalizing the distribution and suggested that an average of 4.78% of innocent respondents provide a false confession (Med = 0; Range = 0 to 30; SD = 7.66; N = 380;

Article text:



Further Google shows author Kassin (“the pages of American history”) has a predilection for the scriptwriter’s flourish.

For example, in:

he gives a brief overview of a murder case in Italy and refers the reader to:

(for comprehensive overviews of the case, see Dempsey, 2010, and Burleigh, 2011).

with a footnote adding (presumably in case the reader is inclined to check the credentials of the cited Dempsey and Burleigh) that:


1 Additional sources to which I had access include the translated police reports of Knox’s statements; personal communications with Amanda Knox, Madison Paxton, and Nina Burleigh; and the Perugia Murder File translation of the Jury/Judge Conviction Report.


In a “Corrections and Updates” addendum several corrections are made, significant in a legal sense for anyone presenting a statement of what occurred, and reference is made to the “Hellmann-Zanetti Report on the Acquittal of …” (without mentioning that the charge of falsely accusing the employer of being the murderer was upheld, which attracted a four-year prison term for the accusation).


No other updates are mentioned, such as that ‘Hellmann-Zanetti’ was overturned as to the murder acquittal, on appeal to the Supreme Court, on grounds of specious reasoning (that is, circular reasoning, or ‘bootstraps’ logic) and ‘anthropological’ reasoning (read: racism) and the matter was sent back for re-determination to the appeal court level. Nor are any subsequent appeals and what happened thereafter mentioned. Time stops at the correction and the reader is not informed and is therefore left with a distorted impression of what has happened.

Not an ideal position to be in.



Further, there is a curious absence of reference to other past and future (non-legal) sources matching and even superseding the Dempsey and Burleigh, books which, from a quick scan of Amazon, would include Russell and Johnson’s Darkness Descending (2010), Follain’s Death in Perugia (2012) and Raper’s Justice on Trial: The Final Outcome – Evidence and Analysis in the Meredith Kercher Murder Case (2016).

It’s as if Kassin has not done his homework.

Or, more specifically, he is presenting a false scenario to the reader, much like the subjects of his study present false confessions, and ‘the rippling consequences’ of that scenario flow into other things, including an agenda: “people reflexively accept what is presented to them,” he says. Whether he consciously includes himself in that category is left unsaid.


In an ambiguously titled interview article, “Forging Forensic Science: Dr. Saul Kassin on Amanda Knox and the Truth behind False Confessions”


“All it took was a confession for Amanda, he said, and everything was set on its own course.”

Not true. A reading of Follain and the others will give a different picture than the one Kassin paints by relying on Dempsey and Burleigh and his conversations. (Not to mention his lack of legal insight is glaringly apparent: for example, an admission by a person cannot be used against them; the Hellmann court decision was annulled on the murder charge; etc)


It’s as if a psychological mirror effect is in play: “Prior expectations”, “tunnel vision”, “see what you want to see”.



There is also a hint of cognitive dissonance in play:


“Most people don’t even know that [in the US] police are allowed to lie about evidence. Europeans can’t believe it’s even permissible.”



On the one hand, unwarranted techniques used by the Europeans elicited unreliable testimony (therefore, false confession). One the other hand, Europeans are surprised unwarranted techniques are being used by the US.

These Europeans are a wayward lot.



Unable to see beyond what is presented to him, mistaking those things for headnotes, no updates on matters that would change the position (substantively or otherwise, to point out his ‘harmless error’ jibe’s applicability to his own conclusions), inability to see the other side or integrate those other ideas into a nexus of conceptual associations, and no reference at all to anything legal on the European side – seems to indicate either that traffic is road-blocked on the two neurons from the ethical head office, or that the inputs went haywire there, or both. (His criticism of the Reid technique is independent of his opinion, assumptions and interpretations, though, and stands validly on the experimental results. And that is exactly because he does no ‘production scripting’ with them.)


Putting in minute details, saying things happened that didn’t, presenting a picture that is different from actuality, and treating it as true, is exactly paralleling the modus operandi of the false confessor: the question then arises – what future expectation does he have that will be to his benefit?


Mitigation or aggravation?


Let ℜ = the set of real possibilities motivating someone …


Either way, a fourth-hand summary of a case pumping through a non-lawyer pipe: I wouldn’t rely on it.

It doesn’t even qualify to the standards that newspaper reporters doing court cases and other legal reporting are expected to follow.


Many Words

Snow and Ice

In ‘the many words for “snow”’ tradition, the Italian aesthetic for elegant harmonisation across a creative work finds a challenge in translating the monotony of English conversations as reported in novels: all the many ‘ “…,” he said.’s with the word ‘said’ being said many times.

The same note, over and over, if it were a song.

“[‘ask’ and ‘say’] the repetition of which does not in fact weigh down an English text but is a millstone in Italian”  —  Andrea Binelli, Lingua, semiologia e traduzione dall’inglese, 3rd edition, (2013) [Tangram Edizioni Scientifiche, 2013] (Language, Semiotics and Translating from English), pp 139-140. ISBN 9788864580913

To keep the Italian readable, mirroring the English method won’t work well. Instead, the translator needs to resort to an alternative technique.

“For example, “say”, which occurs 15 times in the same text, can be translated with: dire, aggiungere, fare, uscirsene, affermare, rispondere, replicare, ribattere, chiedere, domandare, annunciare, enunciare, esternare, precisare, spiegare, asserire, riferire, proferire, raccontare, ammonire, suggerire, parlare, considerare, esclamare, e altri ancora.”

—  (Binelli, p 140)

(“said, added, went, ejaculated, came out with, affirmed, responded, replied, returned, asked, questioned, announced, pronounced, enunciated, specified, explained, asserted, referred to, proffered, recounted, admonished, suggested, spoke, considered, exclaimed, and others as well.”)

Note that the nuances of the English renderings of the Italian verbs of speaking, as presented in the translation, are different to the Italian ones.

It is rather like the (pro)position that describing Melville’s language in Moby Dick as sibylline and naturalistic (“sibillino e al contempo naturalista” —  Binelli, p 186) should be Englished as  “enigmatic and at the same time everyday”. No-one uses ‘sibylline’ in an everyday English conversation. ‘Riddling’ and ‘ambiguous’, maybe, and even then unlikely outside a lecture room (or poem, perhaps). And certainly not ‘Delphic’, which goes off in another direction.


Similarly, tradition-wise in the word-fondness sphere, Martian anthropologists might say* (*presuming they speak (to borrow from Eco)) the same thing about the many-worded Earthlings and their appreciation of the nuances of H2O:

water, river, rill, creek, tributary, rapids, lake, pool, pond, weir, canal, sea, seaspray, ocean, wave, roller, tide, cloud, rain, raindrop, sleet, snow, snowflake, snow flurry, hail, hailstone, ice, iceberg, glacier, steam, mist, fog, dew, (aquifer), spring, fountain, waterfall, white horse, whale road, bore, bore water, tea, soup, broth, cordial, wine, juice, (liquid), drink, (thirst), …

A Ramble around the Bramble Bush

Jurisprudence on Precedent Law

Just as some law students (and sometimes, fresh practitioners, too) mistake presenting an argument with being argumentative (in a moot, for example), likewise some people make the assumption that, in an adversarial system, being adversarial is the same as being partisan — you are, after all, ‘fighting for your side’.

Yet, in the adversarial system, one advocate can present both sides of the argument. Without fear, or favour. Indeed, the best advocates consider both sides and do not blinker themselves, in order to best bolster their own and undermine the opposing side’s arguments. Further, in criminal matters, the prosecution is obliged to bring a fair case, not a one-sided case.

Likewise, in terms of mistaking one thing for another, finding support in precedent is sometimes mistaken for doing history or understanding an historical context.

Which leads to the position (and things connected to Scalia crop up frequently in this regard, as if he were tainted with ‘the brush of unknowing’ and took the first Google result as Gospel, every time), that what is supposed to be a fair-and-balanced wrapper around a trawl through the cases and statutes (relating to the law of precedent, in this case) is in actuality a one-sided roll down the hill of partisanship.

Withholding essential and relevant information from a court (or the readership) is a breach of professional ethics and standards, because it does not present a full picture, and hence any conclusions will be lacking (potentially significantly) in the foundations.

The mistake of partisanship is easy to make (a lack of considered thought on the topic is the quickest way in) and is the mark of an amateur (or, more specifically, the untrained).

The logical fallacy of partisanship, and carrying the “Straw Man” argument around, to be deployed like a traditional Jack-in-the-Box in the under-pinnings of a tome, reduces the value of the work somewhat, too. A book purporting to be authoritative loses its future worth as persuasive precedent that way.



Proposed Submission: the foundational premise in the recent Garner & Co book on legal precedent, that Common Law and Civil Law systems have different approaches to precedent, is flawed. However, since it is only affects the opening and closing paragraphs of the book, the rest of the 700-plus pages of the work remains a useful mine of information relating to the (US) practice and procedure of precedent, and is presented in a well-chosen and legible typeface as well.

The topic is rather large for a single posting session to accommodate all edits, so some preparatory notes are parked here (some third of them) for convenience, prior to re-assembly at a later date into a more coherent text.

In essence, a lack of distinguishing, at the doctrinal level, between law and rules leads to a misleading comparison of dichotomy between two systems. However, since procedure rarely examines doctrinal foundations, this misleading picture is of little consequence in practice (other than leaving some first-years, – on the rebuttable presumuption that the work is not deliberately intended to be a partisan work –,  unimpressed with the quality of the analysis and research, perhaps).


Any hoo –


“a prudent guide for future decisions”
—  Bryan A Garner et al, The Law of Judicial Precedent, (2016) [ThomsonReuters, 2017], p 5.
ISBN 9783014634207



In a Monash University Law Review article, the authors list several factors linked to a higher correlation of one jurisdiction’s Supreme Court citing another jurisdiction’s Supreme Court’s decisions:

  • geographical proximity
  • socio-economic complexity
  • cultural linkages
  • stock of precedent (and, by implication, access to that precedent)
  • reputation of the Court

(Russell Smyth & Dietrich Fausten, “Coordinate citations”, 34 Monash U L Rev 34)


So, understandably, just from the caseload volumes alone, the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island won’t be as frequent a source of citations as the Supreme Court of Tasmania would be,  and likewise both compared to the Supreme Court of New South Wales.


Another factor, at least in the United States, seems to be also in play, if the case presented in a book on precedent by Garner and a dozen others is to be believed: namely, “strong doctrinal commitment” (p 16). Civil Law systems and Common Law systems have different approaches to precedent, is the thesis. Although, despite this, there has been “a palpable convergence of technique” (p 17) and “the world has given rise to hybrid systems” (p 17).

The case is presented that Civil Law systems, through their history and development, have no precedent: “Roman law had no system of legal precedent” (p 16), citing Buckland (“Roman law had no system of precedent”) and Jolowicz in support: “Justinian definitely forbade the use of precedent” (p 16 n 56: Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law, 1952, p 569).


The key word is ‘system’; there certainly was preceden. And forbidding the use of precedent implies there is precedent in the first place.


A GoogleBooks Snippet View of Jolowicz gives the quote reference as p 354 n4: “Justinian definitely forbade use of precedents in C.7.45.13 – non exemplis sed legibus judicandum est – but see also 461.” [The Latin translates as: Not by precedent (‘exemplis’=example) but by the law is judgment to be made.]

The sentence prior to that one is: “Precedent, although unrecognized in the lawyers’ list of sources [of law], is well enough known as exemplum or res judicata  to the rhetoricians (e.g., Quint. Inst. orat. 5.2.1 …)”.


Another GoogleBooks search, this time for the Buckland quote, gives a page on from the site (Colonial Society of Massachusetts, “Volume 77: Portrait of a Patriot, The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, Volume Four”, ‘The Reports’), which under “Note: Page 138 ‘Videbatur’” has: “On Roman law ‘precedent,’ which was not systematic at all, see W. W. Buckland…” and for the Jolowicz 569 cite the Quincy page has: ‘(Precedent as “exemplum”).’ The note ends with “My thanks to my distinguished colleage, Charles Donohue Jr.”




In Australia, the word ‘precedent’ also refers to the boilerplate text of a standard legal letter and suchlike: “2. A document or form used as a basis or template by lawyers as a guide for drafting in analgous situations.”  (Butterworth’s Australian Legal Dictionary, [2009], ‘precedent’. ISBN 9780409307221).

A precedent in this sense is a ‘form’ or ‘legal form’ in the US and a ‘style’ in Scotland (Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, 3rd edition, [Oxford University Press, 2011], ISBN 9780195384208).

An old term for the  same thing was an ‘exemplification’, like in the case of Kempton v Cross ( where there was an exemplification under seal which said “that on the         day of            a power was issued to                    to administer the goods                     deceased, according to his will, …”, with the will attached, which was taken to be sufficient evidence to prove the administrator’s title.


Thomas Wood, in A New Institute of the Imperial or Civil Law (1730), Book IV, chapter I, on the duty of a judge, could be using ‘precedent’ in both senses, when he translates Justinian as (p 295):



A line of cases makes a custom. Intriguingly, a line can be made up of a single case, like a line of traffic can be a single car.

The mechanical application of a template decision is not desirable. On the other hand, it cannot be imagined Justinian is saying to carry out the duties of a judge inefficiently or unjustly.

“it is clear that the influence of actual decisions in the development of the law was at all times considerable. The Romans were not, any more than other people, free from the feeling that if a thing has been done once that  is in itself a reason for doing it again.

Even Justinian, who codified the pre-existing mass of opinions and legislation in his digest, recognized in his students’ textbook the Institutes, the existence of mos judiciorum – judicial practice and custom (Just. iv. XI. 6.), or, according to Jolowicz, ‘ordinary legal methods’ (Lectures, p 222).”

—Ben Atkinson Wortley, Jurisprudence





What does a disguised spy look like?

On Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom last week, in the episode ‘Spies’, the fairies and elves of the Little Kingdom were competing to build a boat for King Thistle, one that wouldn’t get him laughed at by the Marigolds on Boat Day on the lake (long story).

The result was a big Viking longboat, with shields along the side, a hippopotamus head (that breathed fire), and duck legs, and chicken wings.

During the building phase, spies  (Barnaby the Elf, and the fairy Strawberry) were sent at various times into the opposing camp to spy out  progress, and they were equipped complete with a finishing-touch ‘disguise’ (a pair of Groucho Marx novelty glasses, with nose and moustache). The disguise more-or-less worked, depending on who was being asked.



Syntax and Grammar for Motifs


“the rules and procedures for the representation [of the odalisque]”

— Jean-Pierre Brodier, L’odalisque, ou la représentation de la femme imaginaire, (2005) [L’Harmattan, 2009] (The Odalisque, or, Representing the Imaginary Woman), p 12.

ISBN 9782747597074


“oda = room, chamber; odaliq = chambermaid” (Brodier, p 15) is different to ‘odalisque’ in English (or French).



“[In Australia] There was none of the struggle against ’oppression’ and ’tyranny’ which, to the drafters of the American Bill of Rights, characterised their achievement of independence.”

— Jennifer Clarke, Patrick Keyzer and James Stellios, Hanks Australian Constitutional Law: Materials and Commentary, 9th edition, (2013) [LexisNexis Butterworths, 2013], [10.1.7] (p 1127).

ISBN 9780409331813


Counsel’s antics

“Finally, Australian courts do not like counsel to adopt the style of theatrics you may see on American law television shows. Stand bythe lectern and stand upright.”

— Richard Krever, Mastering Law Studies and Law Exam Techniques, 7th edition, (2011) [LexisNexis Butterworths, 2011], p 95.

ISBN 9780409327274


Can speak Spanish

“Berk-Seligson (2000) gives examples of police officers in the United States who, despite their inadequate Spanish language skills, insist on asking questions in Spanish, making it very difficult for the suspects to understand.”

— Sandra Hale, “Court interpreting: The need to raise the bar: Court interpreters as specialized experts”, inMalcolm Coulthard and Alison Johnson (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics, (2010) [Routledge, 2013], pp 440-454, p 444.




The plot-device

“The allure of the simple can be seductive”

— Stuart Ewen and Elizabeth Ewen, Typecasting – On the Arts & Sciences of Human Inequality:

A History of Dominant Ideas, (2006/2008) [Seven Stories Press, New York, ], p xvii.

ISBN 9781583227763


“the major resource of the discipline Liddell-Scott-Jones”

— Michael Clarke, “Semantics and Vocabulary”, in Egbert J Bakker (ed), A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language, (2014) [Wiley Blackwell, 2017], pp 120-133, p 123.


“LSJ is muddled and treacherous”

—Clarke, p 132.


“Richard the Lionheart (who spoke French)” — Charlie Higson, “Introduction”, in David Whitaker, Doctor Who and the Crusaders, (1966) , p x.


“In the historical film conventions of the day everyone just spoke English, and they speak it with a funny accent if they are foreign.”

— Higson, p x.



“Although widely discredited, the idea that faithful interpreting equates to word-for-word translation is still common among some legal practitioners.”

— Sandra Hale, “Court interpreting: The need to raise the bar: Court interpreters as specialized experts”, in Malcolm Coulthard and Alison Johnson (eds), The Routledge Handbook

of Forensic Linguistics, (2010) [Routledge, 2013], pp 440-454,p 445.








“the so-called confession – a speech act which always seems to generate an expectation of sincerity”

— Gillian Grebler, “False confessors: A jihadi heart and mind? Strategic repackaging of a possibly false confession in an anti-terrorism trial in California”, in Malcolm Coulthard and Alison Johnson (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics, (2010) [Routledge, 2013], pp 315-332, p 330.






Common Law v Civil Law


“a wall of miscomprehension”

— The Hon Justice James Douglas (SC Qld), “Trusts and their Equivalents in Civil Law Systems”, in Malcom Cope (ed), Interpreting Principles of Equity: The WA Lee Lectures 2000-2013, [The Federation Press, 2015], pp 317-327, p 323.


“But the system is one of preference, not dogma. Ultimately, the aim is accurate fact-recovery.” — Andrew Ligertwood & Gary Edmond, Australian Evidence: A Principled Approach to the Common Law and the Uniform Acts, 5th edition, (2010) [LexisNexis Butterworths, 2010], [8.35] (p 746).

ISBN 9780409324808


“It is often said that one of the most important functional distinctions between common law and civil law systems is that the latter have no doctrine of binding precedent. However, the general reasons for following earlier decisions (as outlined in the opening paragraph of the entry for binding precedent) apply to all legal systems. Therefore, it is not surprising that the courts of the legal systems of continental Europe routinely follow their own decisions, even though they are not bound to do so. It follows, therefore, that any distinction between legal systems based on whether they embrace a doctrine of binding precedent must be treated with a degree of scepticism.”

— Ian McLeod, Key Concepts in Law, 2nd edition, (2010) [PalgraveMacmillan, 2010], ”Common law” (p 46).

ISBN 9780230232945







pseudologica fantastica

“PL: could be characterized by the following: ‘(1) the stories are not entirely improbable and are often built upon a matrix of truth; (2) the stories are enduring; (3) the stories are not told for personal gain per se and have a self-aggrandizing quality; and (4) they are distinct from delusions in that the person when confronted with facts can acknowledge these falsehoods’ ”


Bryan H King and Charles V Ford, “

Pseudologia Fantastica” (1988) 77(1) Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 1-6 at 1


— Ian Freckelton, Scholarly Misconduct: Law, Regulation, and Practice, (2016) [Oxford University Press, 2016], p 141 n 453.

ISBN 9780198755401


Precedent v Appeal Court structure

“Bicanin 1976: A trial is not – although it is sometimes treated as if it were – a mere condition precedent to an appeal”

— John Anderson,Uniform Evidence Law: Text and Essential Cases, 3rd edition,[The Federation Press, 2016], [2.190] (p 49).

ISBN 9781760020521



With jurors being unable to read or write (back in the old days), documentation wouldn’t have worked, so the natural solution was to have the case presented orally. This in turn made it “difficult for appeal courts to re-establish the facts”. Likewise, with the binding effect of precedent, uniformity of law comes about “without the need to allow appeals in all but exceptional circumstances”. — from Mathias Siems, Comparative Law, (2014) [Cambridge University Press, 2014], [c3, B.2(a)] (p 50).

ISBN 9780521177177




Weeks and Days

Patterns in the water


(A) Weekdays and Year Cycles

Just like the way that the gears of an Enigma machine inter-mesh with each other to produce a set of combinations, the days of the week, combined with the days in the year, produce a cycle 10,227 days long (28 years) before the days of the week and the days of the month start repeating:  e.g., 25-August being a Friday, with 24-August being a Thursday, etc.

10227 = 7 x 1461 (1461 = 365.25 x 4)

Using slightly different cycles, we get:

10228 [-1]

25/08/2017 6          Friday
24/08/1989 5          Thursday
23/08/1961 4          Wednesday
22/08/1933 3          Tuesday
21/08/1905 2          Monday


10227 [0]

25/08/2017 6          Friday
25/08/1989 6          Friday
25/08/1961 6          Friday
25/08/1933 6          Friday
25/08/1905 6          Friday


10226  [+1]

25/08/2017 6          Friday
26/08/1989 7          Saturday
27/08/1961 1          Sunday
28/08/1933 2          Monday
29/08/1905 3          Tuesday


10225 [+2]

25/08/2017 6          Friday
27/08/1989 1          Sunday
29/08/1961 3          Tuesday
31/08/1933 5          Thursday
2/09/1905    7          Saturday

Note how the weekdays and day numbers go in step, and eventually ‘click’.



Numbers themselves form patterns. Here are some visual examples from the web of  Latex coding output: a helix based on square roots, and a set of curves, repeated and coloured. These sorts of things lead naturally to (Pascal) triangles and sieves (of Eratosthenes) and other things, like why 2 can be the only ever even prime number (in counting systems above base 2, anyway).


“root-helix” Latex code



the first mandala from “mandala” Latex code



The characters in a font are visual shapes, so they can be repeated, reflected, and reflected again, and patterns emerge.

Doing a basic experiment in Latex, if we take a character, say the Phaistos Disc dove phaistosbird(presented in left-to-right reading mode, the assigned Unicode code point is u000101EF) and a random letter (or better, ‘letter’), from say the Lao script letter (character slot 120 in the “Noto Sans Lao” font from Google, a combination of two glyphs, u0E9A + u0ECD), combine them together, birdletter and reflect, we get a motif for a book chapter or similar.



Fleurons can be tiled. Here are some examples running off code from an article by Wilson in the TeX User Group newsletter (TUGBoat), 2011.




Story structures also form patterns, with TV tropes being an ever-popular example, because sometimes they are so glaringly, but unintentionally, comical: the ‘syntax’ of a plot, or a set of scenes, appears too-obviously constrained. Fair enough, if the constraints are the laws of physics or what a stunt person can and cannot do (in those cases we can suspend disbelief and enjoy the show). In other cases, the background context influenced the ideas and choices, and it shows, like cave people with modern hairstyles, and even modern facial expressions and gestures. (Even a young Umberto Eco couldn’t help noticing how the Indians in Westerns were repeatedly constrained by the plot to present themselves as easy targets for showcasing the hero’s skill while standing on top of the runaway stagecoach, etc.)




All these things, gear-meshing, numerical version of the same, translating from one set of patterns to another, they all suggest the possibility of a notation algebra of some sort. One cat, called by different names in different languages, leads to the conjecture that the different words are equivalents of each other, and interchangeable: they are ‘the same’. That process breaks down and confusion arises when it comes to processes instead of things: the process of driving on the road in England is not the same as the process of driving on the road in a US state. The function or result is the same, getting from A to B (more or less), but the method is different, driving on the left instead of driving on the right, how to approach an intersection. Civil Law versus Common Law.


A cour d’assise is (sort of) a Crown Court, in a sense (the purpose or result), and some legal dictionaries ‘translate’ the one term to the other; in another sense (how it does it), a cour d’assise  never will be interchangeable with a Crown Court: the procedures (like the engines of different types of cars, or like the road rules) work in their own ways.

So, for a translator, the question is: *What* is being translated?

Some sort of notational algebra is definitely being called for.

If a and b are words (the forms) in different languages (together with their underlying concepts, the content):



Things are mappable:


Processes are not:




Speaking of transformations, based on cobbling together some Web code and other suggestions, I’ve got a legally-useful Latex document template up and running: traditional numbered paragraphs, un-numbered headings. Citation is a bit fiddly at first glance and took a couple of attempts to set up the procedures correctly (but the complexity of the process matches the complexity of the required rules, OSCOLA in this case – a huge amount of work has gone into the OSCOLA bibliography style file).


First Latex compilation run: citation placeholders are inserted

Then biber runs across the citations, collating everything behind the scenes.



Second compilation run: references are inserted, re-pagination done, cross-references updated, etc

(The case of R v Hill, about the competency of a witness to testify, is available at CommonLII.)



I’m very impressed with Latex (and its Unicode incarnation, Xelatex).





Examples of transformations (from “transforms.tex”)