Recovering the Lost Human Stories of Law: Finding Mrs Burns

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This paper adopts a narrative approach as a means to investigating a well-known English civil law case; Burns v Burns [1984] Ch 317. It seeks to demonstrate some of the consequences of the 'we' and 'they' distinction that characterises much legal practice and discourse. In particular, it is argued that the identity of 'Mrs Burns', as revealed in the reported 'facts of the case' and scrutinised in subsequent legal discourse, is merely our distorted creation. Nevertheless, we continue to refer to the reported judgment as the ultimate source of authority of these 'facts' and we persist in pretending to ourselves that Mrs Burns was intimately involved in the establishment of them. Drawing on Delgado's 'plea for narrative', Mrs Burns' own counterstory is presented here as a both as challenge to our usual ways of thinking and as a belated 'gesture of responsibility' towards her.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2013

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  • Law and Humanities is a peer-reviewed journal, providing a for for scholarly discourse within the arts and humanities around the subject of law. For this purpose, the arts and humanities disciplines are taken to include literature, history (including history of art), philosophy, theology, classics and the whole spectrum of performance and representational arts. The remit of the journal does not extend to consideration of the laws that regulate practical aspects of the arts and humanities (such as the law of intellectual property). Law and Humanities is principally concerned to engage with those aspects of human experience which are not empirically quantifiable or scientifically predictable.
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