Internal Coherence and the Possibility of Judicial Integrity

M. Nicolini et al (eds) Law and Imagination in Troubled Times: A Legal and Literary Discourse (London: Routledge, 2020)

Posted: 5 Feb 2020 Last revised: 19 Aug 2020

See all articles by Patrick O'Callaghan

Patrick O'Callaghan

University College Cork - School of Law

Date Written: January 28, 2020


Even in troubled times, when public confidence in political institutions is low, the judicial profession invariably remains one of the most trusted of all professions. Few doubt that our judges are people of the highest integrity. But what exactly does it mean to say that a judge is a person of integrity? Drawing on the work of the philosopher Lynne McFall and Albert Camus’ novel The Fall, this chapter seeks to offer an account of integrity that is relevant to those officials who bear the ‘burden of judgement’. Using a schema developed by McFall, it will argue that judges must ensure coherence of principle in the interpretation of law and coherence between principle and action in the application of the law. However, there is a further necessary condition of judicial integrity that is often overlooked: achieving ‘internal coherence’ or ensuring coherence between principle and motivation.

This chapter is chiefly concerned with the notion of ‘internal coherence’ and argues that that most judges will necessarily strive towards achieving such coherence. In so doing, they will need to reflect on their particular ‘role-distinct obligations’ in our political system as well as on mistakes that they have made in their official function. But, drawing on Camus’ The Fall, this chapter explores whether judges will need go deeper still in their reflections if they are to achieve internal coherence. The central protagonist in The Fall is an ex-lawyer who maintains that one must become a ‘professional penitent’ if one is to be a judge. Put differently, he thinks that one must engage in deep introspection, paying close attention to one’s personal failings, both past and present, before one has the right to judge others. Camus’ protagonist implies that this approach to judging is the exception rather than the rule but this chapter conjectures that the sort of introspection he describes is common. In fact, it is likely to be of fundamental importance to most judges if they are to bear the burden of judgement and ‘live with themselves.’ Moreover, when combined with their experience on the bench, this sort of reflection cultivates wisdom about the meaning of justice and fairness and this explains, in large part, why we tend to trust our judges to do what is right.

Keywords: Law and Literature, Integrity, Camus

Suggested Citation

O'Callaghan, Patrick, Internal Coherence and the Possibility of Judicial Integrity (January 28, 2020). M. Nicolini et al (eds) Law and Imagination in Troubled Times: A Legal and Literary Discourse (London: Routledge, 2020), Available at SSRN:

Patrick O'Callaghan (Contact Author)

University College Cork - School of Law ( email )

College Road
Cork, County Cork

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