Legal Fictions and Legal Change
49 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2012
Date Written: October 31, 2012
This paper offers a definition of legal fictions and an evaluation of the role of legal fictions in legal practice, especially insofar as they enable legal change. The first part of the paper defines legal fictions as any suspension of one or more of the required operative facts leading to the imposition of an associated normative consequence, whether this suspension is introduced because of 1) the absence of proof of some previously required fact; or 2) the presence of proof to the contrary. The second part argues that legal fictions have an unjustifiably bad reputation as enablers of legal change. This paper makes a plea for seeing legal fictions as forms of tentative cognition that enable courts to communicate with each other, exploring whether a certain change in the law (i.e. precisely a suspension of a required operative fact in the imposition of a certain normative consequence) ought to be introduced at a more explicit level. Under the guise of this relational reading of legal reasoning, legal fictions become an instrument of careful experimentation – a way of testing the extent to which the potential introduction of a rule will be beneficial. Seen in this light, legal fictions are by no means signs of the immaturity of the system; they are, instead, dynamic resources that allow courts, over time, to balance flexibility and responsiveness with stability and predictability.
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