Conflict of rights as a rhetorical antinomy

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Author: Anita Soboleva

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2018-1-113-126

Keywords: balancing exercise in judicial practice; conflict of rights; constitutional rights; judicial adjudication; rhetorical antinomy


When judges adjudicate cases in light of national constitutions or the ECHR, they often deal with the conflict of individual rights and have to perform a “balancing exercise” to justify their choice in favor of one of them. Different methodologies can be applied to investigate the problem of why judges make different choices when they counter-balance seemingly the same rights under similar provisions. In this article, an attempt is made to apply the methodology of new rhetoric, elaborated by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca. Legal positivism cannot provide the answer of how the choice is made if the conflicting rights belong to the same level in the hierarchy of legal sources. This issue lies rather in the realm of rhetoric than in the domain of legal theory, because the “preferable”, “choice”, and “adherence” are philosophical rather than legal terms and relate to values and hierarchies. Arguments in law, according to Perelman, are rhetorical by nature and decision-making in law is based on rhetorical demonstration, not on the principles of formal logic. The choice between two lines of arguments is always a value-choice, and can be grounded in public opinion as well as in the moral choices of the judges. The conflicting values can be considered as a rhetorical antinomy that should be resolved. The antinomy is defined as mutual incompatibility of two laws, provisions, or legal arguments that can be equally justified as valid and applicable. From point of view of rhetoric, different outcomes that the judges of national or international courts arrive at in the process of applying the same provisions to the same facts can to a large extent be explained by the fact that, although they share common values, they build them differently into hierarchies and assign them different weight in their value-systems. An analysis of two decisions–the cases of Konstantin Markin and Nikolay Alekseyev, which provoked academic debate among Russian constitutional lawyers and judges–justifies this thesis. It also enables one to identify the ways in which rhetorical antinomies in human rights cases are being resolved by the Russian Constitutional Court and the ECtHR.

About the author: Anita Soboleva – Candidate of Philological Sciences, LL.M., Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Soboleva A. (2018) Konflikt prav kak ritoricheskaya antinomiya [Conflict of rights as a rhetorical antinomy]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.1, pp.113–126.


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