Argumentum Ad Hominem – Legal Maxim

Literal Meaning

Bringing the argument to the person.

Explanation

There are circumstances in which, people fail t substantiate there arguments with facts and reason, so they start to question the defendants or their personal associations. These types of arguments are often considered to be insults and are highly immoral to make. Argumentum ad hominem is usually made on the basis of a personal feeling which makes it bound to be biased. The argumentum ad hominem lacks facts, reason and logic. This kind of argument consists of an emotional testimony or some kind of personal attack. It doesn’t have anything to do with the actual fact in issue. The main aim of such arguments is to raise suspicions about original argument, it basis and also about the person making such arguments. Since such arguments are prejudiced they are not always rooted in facts of issues present.  These arguments provided that are either irrelevant to the case at hand or are entirely false. Such arguments are not encouraged in the court of law and are avoided until and unless they are required to prove certain important facts.

Origin

The maxim is obtained from the Latin term ad hominem which translates into “to the man.” Thus the entire phrase argumentum ad hominem is used to describe a situation where a person deliberately brings an argument to another person.

Illustration

If a person is accused of theft and the prosecution is attacking the defendant’s character rather than addressing the actual facts of the alleged criminal activity then such arguments are called argumentum ad hominem. If the prosecution stated that the person accused belongs from a particular cast or region which has been associated with committing theft then it amount to argumentum ad hominem.

If any person is speaking for the rights of LGBTQ community and he or she is accused to favour the group due their own sexual orientation then such statements also comes under the umbrella of argumentum ad hominem

Case Reference

In the case of B.L. Sreedhar v. K.M. Munireddy[1] it was observed by the apex court that where the fact presumed is taken to be true, not as against all the world, but against a particular party, and that only by reason of some act done, it is in truth a kind of argumentum ad hominem.

In H.B. Basavaraj and anr. v Canara Bank and Others[2] the dispute was regarding the recovery of said loan amount. One of the major issue was that Whether the ‘X’ trust having benefited from the loan transaction disputed herein can be estopped from denying its liability and the court observed that estoppel said to be based on the maxim, allegans contraria non est audiendus which means that a party is not to be heard to allege the contrary and is that species of presumption juris et de jure i.e., absolute or conclusive or irrebutable presumption. Where the fact presumed is taken to be true, not as against all the World, but against a particular party, and that only by reason of some act done; it is in truth a kind of argumentum ad hominem.

In the case of Bermingham v Sher Bros[3] a fireman was overcome by heat and smoke and in consequence died in the course of fighting a fire at a warehouse of which the defenders were occupiers. It was alleged as a ground of fault against the defenders that they had failed to take reasonable care for the safety of the deceased in that they had not erected a firescreen to protect the main stairway of the warehouse. It was further averred that the defenders were vicariously liable to the pursuer in respect that the cause of the fire was a lighted match or cigarette dropped by one of their servants. Proof before answer was allowed. The court held that it is well aware that such statements are argumentum ad hominem. The court also observed that If the occupier of premises which accidentally catch fire owed a duty of safety to firemen dealing with the outbreak, it is amazing  that no decision and no writer of textbooks has claimed that that is the law.

Edited by Vigneshwar Ramasubramania

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


Reference:

[1] Sreedhar v. K.M. Munireddy. (2003) 2 SCC 355; AIR 2003 SC 578

[2] H. B. Basavaraj and another v Canara Bank and Others, (2010) 12 SCC 458

[3] Bermingham v Sher Bros, [1978] 8 WLUK 30

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I am Kousini Gupta, final year BBA.LLB. student from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. The topics in Constitutional, Intellectual Property, Entertainment and Media Law excite me in particular and bring out the best in me. I have interned at District Court, High Court and several reputed law firms. The experience of these internships was highly valuable and enriching. My research and publications have been accepted in reputed national journals. Besides, I also enjoy mooting and have several participation certificates to my credit. In my free time, I like to be creative with paintings and dance to my favourite tunes.