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2 LIES, LAW AND MORALITY

Deceit - The Lie of the Law

2

LIES, LAW AND MORALITY

INTRODUCTION

2.1 The tort of deceit is grounded in morality. Telling the truth is often seen as a moral duty and lying regarded as immoral conduct. The reported judgments of the courts bristle with the collective outrage of the judiciary towards deception and deceit. It is thus important to understand the breadth of moral feeling concerning lies. This is not to suggest that the tort’s past or future development was based on abstract moral philosophy. Judges are accustomed to applying “common sense”,1 and insofar as this embraces moral principles, it involves an intuitive moral assessment,2 influenced by innate notions of fairness and current social opinion. Nevertheless, if deceit is a right of action dependent on the breach of a moral duty, as much as a legal duty, it is worth inquiring more closely into the morality of lying, because there is at least a perception that lies are not always morally bad. Indeed, it is a perception with which many people have a deeply-held sympathy.

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