Oxford Journal of Legal Studies Article: Do Apologies Ordered by the Court Serve A Purpose?

An employee seeks an apology from his employer for inadequately handling a complaint against him. A sexual abuse victim pursues an apology from the Catholic Church for the harm that was done by one of the priests. And a homosexual man feels discriminated against by a radio host who made degrading statements about homosexuals.

Can these individuals claim an apology, and will a court order one? The conventional wisdom is that apologies that are claimed or ordered do not serve a purpose because they lack sincerity and violate the right to freedom of expression. In a recent publication, I challenge conventional wisdom by demonstrating that apologies do not need to be sincere in order for them to serve a purpose.

If sincerity cannot be the decisive criterion for determining whether apologies should be ordered, what criterion should then be decisive? Based on available empirical research, case law and scholarly research on apologies, the article identifies the purposes of coerced apologies and uses these purposes to draft criteria for determining when ordered apologies are appropriate. It is concluded that an ordered apology is a fulfilment of a legal requirement rather than a statement of genuinely held feelings.

A proportionality test is developed in order to determine the permissibility of ordered apologies. The findings in the article refute the sincerity myth, offer suggestions as to how to overcome freedom of expression concerns and call for a more welcoming approach towards court-ordered apologies.

(URL: Gijs van Dijck, ‘The Ordered Apology’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (advance access))

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