Liverpool Law Review

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 17–26 | Cite as

The Possibility and Value of Coherence

  • John McGarryEmail author


It would seem axiomatic that the law should be coherent in the sense that it should be consistent and correspond to an underlying justificatory rationale. Indeed, coherence would appear to be a good, in and of itself, and give rise to other benefits which are desirable in a legal system. In this article, I explore the value and achievability of coherence. I argue that it is largely inevitable that common law legal systems are not coherent, but that each legal system will comprise areas of coherence. I examine whether it is possible to improve coherence through legislation or adjudication but conclude that any coherence attained through the former may be temporary and achieving coherence through the latter is difficult both in principle and in practice. In looking at the value of coherence, I contend that while coherence may have various intrinsic and instrumental benefits, its value should not be overstated; many of the benefits which coherence is said to provide are present in legal systems where it is lacking; other benefits depend on the awareness of a country’s citizens and I suggest that, outside of extremes, citizens are probably unaware of the degree to which their legal system is coherent. Moreover, full coherence may lead to characteristics which are undesirable in a legal system.


Legal coherence Legal certainty Obligation to obey the law 



I would like to thank Clare Kinsella and the reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this work; any errors remain my own.


  1. Baum Levenbook, Barbara. 1994. The Role of coherence in legal reasoning. Law and Philosophy 3(3): 355–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bertea, Stefano. 2005. Looking for coherence within the European community. European Law Review 11(2): 154–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bingham, Lord. 2007. The rule of law. Cambridge Law Journal 66(1): 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bowman, Sir Jeffrey and others. 2000 Review of the crown office list: A report to the lord chancellor. Lord Chancellor’s Department.Google Scholar
  5. Dworkin, Ronald. 1986. Law’s empire. London: Fontana Press.Google Scholar
  6. Hershovitz, Scott. 2006. Integrity and stare decisis. In Exploring law’s empire: The jurisprudence of Ronald Dworkin, ed. Scott Hershovitz, 103–118. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Lewis, Clive. 2010. Current issues in remedies in judicial review. Judicial Review 15(2): 144–148.Google Scholar
  8. Morgan, Jonathan. 2004. Tort insurance and incoherence. Modern law review 67(3): 384–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Perry, Stephen. 2006. Associative obligations and the obligation to obey the law. In Exploring law’s empire: The jurisprudence of Ronald Dworkin, ed. Scott Hershovitz, 183–205. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Pethick, Stephen. 2008. Solving the impossible: The puzzle of coherence, consistency and law. Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 59(4): 395–409.Google Scholar
  11. Plato (Tredennick, Hugh and Tarrant, Harold (trans)). 1993. The last days of Socrates. London: Penguin Classics.Google Scholar
  12. Raz, Joseph. 1992. The relevance of coherence. Boston University Law Review 72(2): 273–321.Google Scholar
  13. Smith, Dale. 2006. The many faces of political integrity. In Exploring law’s empire: The jurisprudence of Ronald Dworkin, ed. Scott Hershovitz, 119–153. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Unger, Roberto, M. 1996. What should legal analysis become? Accessed 11 October 2012.
  15. Waldron, Jeremy. 2006. Did Dworkin ever answer the crits? In Exploring law’s empire: The jurisprudence of Ronald Dworkin, ed. Scott Hershovitz, 155–181. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Weinrib, Ernest J. 1988. Legal formalism: On the immanent rationality of law. Yale Law Journal 97: 949–1016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Law and CriminologyEdge Hill UniversityOrmskirkUK

Personalised recommendations