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if courts have the power to use any rule of interpretation (golden rule , mischief rule , purposive rule etc) then which interpretation should be chosen ? the one in favour of the accused , the one in favour of the victim or the one in favour of the purposes of the lawmakers/drafters ?

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  • Which legal system? In the US it is innocent until proved guilty, the goal being to protect the innocent. I think there are other legal systems (France?) where the goal is to seek the truth.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 13:41
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    This is settled by each legal system. I don't think this is a philosophical question.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 14:32
  • @LudwigV I specifically mentioned "assuming they have the power to use any of the 3 rules of interpretations" which means I have a particular legal system in mind Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 19:09
  • That's true and fair comment. But don't you think you should ask people who understand the particular legal system you have in mind, or at least tell us all which one it is? Then the question might have some traction.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 19:57
  • Are you talking about civil or criminal justice? In criminal justice there is no interpretation "favourable to the victim" as they are not required to take part in the process. At most they can be called as witness (if they're still alive). It's between the State and the defendant.
    – armand
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 0:05

2 Answers 2

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It's not always clear. That's why in the US there is a hierarchy of courts, there can be appeals, the case can end up at the "Supreme Court", and even the "Supreme Court" debates at length and some of its decisions can be reversed later. Mistakes can be made, and even what is a "mistake" can be subject to interpretation depending on many factors such as personal values and political orientation. Laws may fail to cover new situations that lawmakers/drafters could not anticipate. Or conversely, some laws may be too old and not applicable anymore. So, in practice, there doesn't seem to be a rule that is always followed.

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You can view the justice system through the lens of machine learning, where we have binary classifiers with false positive and false negatives.

The goal of the justice system is to make sure the guilty get punished (true positives) and the innocent are not (true negatives). But then you must make a choice: Trying to decrease false negatives (guilty who escape punishment) typically increases false positives (innocents who get punished). So you must find the balance between the two.

Many justice systems, like the US, state that it's better to minimize the false positives.

Firstly, punishing an innocent person is hard to undo. But if you let a guilty person go, and later new evidence reveals that they are guilty after all, you can still punish them. A great example is various controversies over people who were executed, and then exonerated by DNA tests. Well, it's hard to bring back the dead...

Second, there is already a lot of criminals who escape punishment, no matter how the court rules. Many criminals simply never get caught and never get to the courtroom. So attempting to have zero false negatives is a losing battle.

Worse yet, when you do try to minimize false negatives, you often end up creating disproportionately many false positives. This is because most people in a society are not criminals, so false positives have comparatively greater impact. This is the same phenomenon as the classic Bayesian analysis of things like cancer screening.

Of course, the "false positives" are not merely a matter of efficiency. The "criminal element" is inherently opposed to the law and government. The problem is that law enforcement has limited resources. If the courts judge too many guilty, you can get to a point where there are too many "criminals" to police, and in fact the authorities are outnumbered, and overwhelmed. People who know they are innocent also resent being judged guilty, and so they are often less compliant than genuine criminals. So having an overly aggressive justice system is a great way to instigate rebellions, which has historically been the downfall with many totalitarian regimes. I suspect this is one reason leniency is more common - the non-lenient governments, legal systems and societies have been overthrown by lenient ones.

Of course that judicial leniency (how quick courts are to rule someone guilty on thin evidence) is different from legal leniency (whether the laws say every little thing is a crime). But it has also been the case many times that courts counterbalance draconian laws by simply being even more lenient with those accused of breaking them, there are even concepts like jury nullification. But the obverse, where courts punish people more harshly than the laws prescribe, to make up for the laws being "lenient" tends to be rare. And when it does happen, the response from the public is often vigorously negative.

Lastly, in cases where the ruling is not about punishing someone but mediation (for example, dispute over who should get a piece of land), I think it is still more sensible to place the burden of proof on the claimant. It is easy to make claims, but defending them is laborious and costly. It seems more just that the courts would make things harder for the one making the claim, and easy for the one defending the status quo. Moreover, if claims have an advantage, it invites tactical/frivolous lawsuits, in other words people who just make a lot of baseless claims or accusations just to tie up their opponent in court. This is counter to the interests of the legal system, who would rather use their limited resources on adjudicating legitimate cases with actual merit, so it is pragmatic to demand a high standard from claims, and a low standard from defenses (so as to "clear out" the bogus claims quickly).

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  • Welcome to SE. Your answer is good so far as it goes. But you have not focused on the question, which is about interpretation of the law, not the burden of proof. It may be that you were aware of the difference and think that this answer is relevant to both. But that's not obvious. It would have been much better to explain your approach as part of the answer.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 19:45
  • Nah I think it's fine Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 22:36

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