It has been reported recently that “after much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.”
Bermuda, unsurprisingly, is not immune to post-truth discourse, which has become especially prevalent in social media, while also featuring in mainstream political rhetoric (both in Parliament, and in press releases, media interviews, and other public fora).
Although Bermuda’s Commission of Inquiry has not yet published its report to the Premier, some of the evidence and submissions which it received appear to have suffered from a particularly “post-truth” state of mind.
From a Courtroom perspective, however, the increasing tolerance or legitimization of the concept of “post-truth” is a worrying development. Courts decide cases according to the evidence (through a process which is designed to establish the objective facts as reliably as possible) and according to the law.
That is not to say that subjective beliefs, or public opinion (to the extent that it can be reliably ascertained), might not have a role to play in certain kinds of disputes: but Judges and Juries and Counsel need to be more alive than ever to the difficulties associated with the making of decisions on the basis of emotions, subjective personal beliefs, and unreliable evidence.
“Post-truth” and the Rule of Law do not mix well together.