Rhetoric of restrictions: arguments in judicial decisions on fundamental rights

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Author: Anita Soboleva

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2019-5-34-54

Keywords: discursive legitimization; eristic arguments in law; legal arguments; restrictions on fundamental rights; rhetoric of law; sophistic arguments in law


The article contains rhetorical analysis of arguments employed in cases where restrictions on fundamental rights have been challenged. It starts with a short overview of how “restrictions” are construed by different legal scholars in Russia, and a working definition of restrictions for the purposes of the analysis is given: it is understood as any narrowing of the scope of fundamental rights or their denial. In the next section the nature of legal arguments as rhetoric arguments is shown. Further, different types of conclusions drawn from valid and invalid premises and used with dialectic, sophistic or eristic purposes in attempts to justify restrictions of constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of belief and right to liberty and security of person in the texts of judicial decisions are analyzed. It is argued, that the purpose of correct legal arguments is to look at the problem from different perspectives, to find a just solution and to achieve the consent and adherence of the audience. Valid, or dialectic, arguments are contrasted with fallacies (sophistic and eristic conclusions). Then examples of these three types of reasoning from the texts of judicial decisions of Russian courts are adduced and analyzed. Dialectic argumentation is exemplified by the reasoning of the Constitutional Court in famous Dadin’s case on criminal prosecution for repeated participation in unauthorized, though peaceful, public gatherings. Sophistic arguments are illustrated by cases, where courts employed paraphrases and other types of misuse of terms in order to avoid procedural guarantees for the restriction of constitutional rights (similar to “stop and frisk” instead of “arrest and search”), intentionally misinterpreted the positions of the ECtHR or provisions of the Russian Constitution, omitted significant parts in the structure of argument (used claims without warrants) or resorted to argument by division. Eristic arguments are present in cases, when purely formal considerations (for instance, such as use of the word “approved” instead of “adopted”) serve as grounds for denial of constitutional rights. Differentiation between dialectic reasoning, aimed at finding a fair balance between conflicting rights and interests for the best solution of legal problem, and type of reasoning, which formally looks like the process of argumentation but de facto is not, allows to identify flaws in the process of judicial justification and to prepare convincing counter-arguments for upper national courts and the ECtHR. In some cases it also gives grounds for putting forward and sustaining the thesis, that grounds for imposed restrictions on fundamental rights laid outside the boundaries of law. In any case, use of eristic arguments is a clear evidence of unlawfulness of the restriction imposed, and use of sophistic arguments forces the audience to suspect partiality or absence of independence in judicial decision-making. However, dialectic style of reasoning cannot be predominant without judicial ethics, critical thinking, independent judiciary and real adversarial nature of judicial proceedings.

About the author: Anita Soboleva – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Philology, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Soboleva A. (2019) Ritorika ogranicheniy: argumentatsiya v sudebnykh sporakh o fundamental'nykh pravakh [Rhetoric of restrictions: arguments in judicial decisions on fundamental rights]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.28, no.5, pp.34–54. (In Russian).


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