The Burrow: Truth be Told: The Ministry of Magic and Veritaserum

by Noelle Ebert

In the article Wizards on Trial, Sam Cavanaugh posed the question of why the Ministry of Magic doesn’t use Veritaserum in their criminal proceedings. Although his ideas about security and denial are totally reasonable, I believe there are less complex and less paranoid explanations. By considering the information gained from another editorial, Possession by Sarah Farmer, I have deduced two other reasons why this potion is not used to prove conclusively the innocence or guilt of another: it can be beaten, and it is immoral. These two explanations not only tell why Veritaserum is not used in court but also show the glimmer of intelligence and humanity still left in the Ministry.

First of all, let’s review Farmer’s analysis of the various human possessions in the Harry Potter series. She defines possession as “…the use of the body of another.” She also mentions three occasions where Voldemort took control of another: Professor Quirrell in PS/SS, Ginny in CoS, and Harry himself in OotP. In the first two cases, the victims had no control against Voldemort. However, Harry repelled him because of the grief he felt from losing Sirius at the end of the last book. Farmer likened this action to Harry’s ability to throw off the Imperius Curse in GoF. This comparison is vital to understanding why the Ministry does not use Veritaserum.

Consider this: if possession is merely using someone else’s body for your own purposes, can’t Veritaserum be classified as possession, too? By administering this potion to another, you force them to do your will. They have no choice but to tell you everything you want to know. Or do they? Harry has the ability to reject the Imperius Curse, another way to make someone do what you tell him or her. It doesn’t take a leap of faith to believe that someone can throw off Veritaserum, too. I wager that the Ministry of Magic believes this as well, and they don’t want to take the chance of using a fallible potion to determine someone’s fate. After all, we don’t use polygraph tests as absolute evidence in court, because they can be tripped up by drugs like Prozac and Lithium. The Ministry knows a Veritaserum test can likewise be tripped up.

Moving on, I also believe the Ministry of Magic refuses to use Veritaserum because they consider it immoral. As I said before, they allegedly know the potion is fallible, so how could they ethically send someone to Azkaban on faulty proof? Yes, I readily admit there are some bad eggs in the Ministry, (gimme a “U”, gimme an “M”, gimme a “B-R-I-D-G-E”) but there are good ones as well: Arthur, Kingsley and Tonks, for example. And don’t forget about Madam Bones, from Harry’s trial in OotP, who must have some influence there. Further, I think the Ministry wouldn’t officially use Veritaserum because of its similarity to Imperius. Remember, it is considered one of the Unforgivable Curses. And just like the American government isn’t officially allowed to use Unforgivable tortures for trial evidence, neither is the Ministry of Magic. Witches and wizards are bound by moral codes just like we are, and this is another reason Veritaserum-influenced testimony is not used.

In conclusion, Veritaserum cannot be trial evidence because it is not 100% reliable and it is not 100% moral. Information obtained from Cavanaugh’s and Farmer’s essays, as well as examples from real life, prove this statement. Even though this interpretation takes away the possibility of a crime-free environment, it does give us hope that the Ministry is not totally corrupt. After all, the society in Orwell’s 1984 was crime-free because of the mind-reading Thought Police…and look how wonderfully that turned out. Besides, Harry and the Order are gonna need some good guys in the government in the following books — it’s nice to know that there are some out there.