Professor Julia Simon-Kerr explores the theory of systemic lying.

Image of Professor Julia Simon-Kerr
Professor Julia Simon-Kerr explores the theory of systemic lying.
February 10, 2014
Hartford, CT

Julia Simon-Kerr joined the Law School faculty in of 2012 as an associate professor of law and the Ralph and Doris Hansmann Scholar after spending two years as a Bigelow Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School. Her scholarship focuses on evidence, particularly on how lying and credibility in the legal system interact with evolving cultural norms.

Professor Simon-Kerr’s work-in-progress, "Systemic Lying," explores a particular form of cooperative lying that occurs throughout the history of our legal system and in many different areas of the law. Systemic lying involves the cooperation of multiple actors applying a particular principle that guides their deception across cases. Surprisingly, given the system’s clear prohibition on lying in the courtroom, it becomes an open secret and functions as a controlling mechanism within the legal system.

"Through case studies of several instances where this phenomenon occurs across legal areas and over time," explains Professor Simon-Kerr, "I develop a theory of systemic lying.” Professor Simon-Kerr's theory suggests that systemic lying is a product of severe disjunction between cultural beliefs about justice and legal prescriptions. Rather than allow the law to take its course and deliver what would be perceived as unjust outcomes, participants lie and preserve the facade of a system that delivers results consonant with popular moral intuition. The collective and open nature of systemic lying and the fact that it occurs for a justice-related rationale allows it to escape the usual stigma attached to lying, particularly lying embedded within a system that privileges truth in the courtroom. "Ultimately, systemic lying is a persistent and powerful phenomenon within the system because it achieves a legitimacy that individual lies or covert group deception tend to lack," says Professor Simon-Kerr.

Professor Simon-Kerr also has written on education law, gender and the law, and law and literature, an area of interest she examines in a recent book chapter, published by Oxford University Press, entitled, “Pious Perjury in Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian.”