Truth is a tricky thing

Posted by Nicola Laver

Truth is a tricky thing

Nicola Laver

Nicola Laver
Legal Journalist
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Truth is a tricky thing. What one person believes sincerely to be the truth may not harmonise with demonstrable facts. Truth is not as absolute as we might like to think. Perspective, conjecture, surmise and assumption each play their part. 

But one can deduce the facts from a set of circumstances and, in so doing, make a judgement call as to the truth – based on hard evidence. Which is why, of course, independent witnesses are crucial when an issue in dispute comes before the courts.

In her recent ‘Oprah’ interview, the Duchess of Sussex referred to ‘my truth’, a turn of phrase revealing that an individual’s perspective on events constitutes their truth. It would be heartless to suggest that her truth never accords with the facts – but nonetheless a disinterested observer may well wonder what those facts were. 

And so, for instance, it transpired that the Duchess’ truth’ that she and the Duke actually married three days before The Wedding (“No one knows that,” she told her interviewer – probably because Harry didn’t know that either), turned out not be the factual truth at all.

Yet Oprah unquestionably accepted the Duchess’ description of events. You may argue this was disingenuous: the truth here was inferred, but as yet untested. It is this element of the interview, and this part only, that has struck me both as a lawyer and a journalist.

An impartial interviewer could have been expected to dig deeper. She referred to Harry’s conversation with a member of the royal family (note: hearsay) that included comments or concerns about how dark their future baby’s skin colour might be. As a woman of colour herself, Oprah’s gasp of horror was understandable but telling. She accepted the truth inferred to her: that Harry’s family must be racist. A more cautious reaction would have been advisable.

The players in this media maelstrom have their personal perspectives derived from their unique experiences, but perspective cannot be equated with the absolute ‘truth’, invariably supported by facts. To conflate perspective and absolute truth is reputationally risky.

I’ve recently stunbled across the TV series Crown Court – filmed in the 1970s yet up to date in so many ways. The stories illustrate the extent to which one person’s perspective can convey what at first blush appears to be absolute truth – and nothing but the truth.

Then along come the witnesses and that apparent certainty dissipates as quickly as a mist rising in the early sunlight on an autumn morning.

That’s not to say the individual is being untruthful. Rather, their genuinely felt reality and experiences as told to the courtroom do not necessarily portray or substantiate an absolute truth as alleged or claimed. But the evidence needs to be tested.

Words matter. Truth matters. Perspective matters. 

Adapted from Editor’s Letter in the March 2021 edition of Solicitors Journal