A Classics Classic

May 9, 2011

Unlike the former High Court judge, Michael Kirby, I have never studied the classics and, until writing this blogpost didn’t know what “heaping Pelion upon Ossa” meant.  It basically means making things more difficult than they ought to be (or adding difficulty to difficulty).  The allusion is to the attempt of the giants to scale heaven by piling Mount Ossa upon Mount Pelion.

Why am I telling you this? In Grincelis v House the High Court had to decide which interest rate should apply to damages awarded for past gratuitous services provided to an injured person. Kirby J’s dissenting judgment was classic:
[24] We have it on the authority of Virgil that when an endeavour was made in ancient times to pile Ossa on Pelion and then ‘to roll leafy Olympus on top of Ossa’, the Gods scattered the heaped-up mountains with a thunderbolt. Their divine anger may have been occasioned by irritation with the logic of height being pressed too far. This appeal explores the limits of logical deduction in the legal context of compensation for the unpaid care provided by a family member to a person injured as a result of a legal wrong.
….
[28] In the present case, one would be immediately inclined to follow the logic of basic legal principles if the only criterion were the common law. Having embarked upon a path of anomalies, the logic of the common law would carry the decision-maker forward, however apparently extreme the resulting outcome. Ossa would again be piled on Pelion. Any remedy would be left to a legislative thunderbolt if the consequence were regarded as too artificial to be tolerated. Artificiality abounds…
…..
[42] It is not appropriate or just to adopt commercial rates of interest. In my view, they are not the rates which the law requires. To adopt those rates is to fall into the Olympian error of which, long ago, Virgil warned. We should heed his warning.
 
Indeed!

Creative commons attribution for the photograph.
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