Please can we stop religious oaths in the legal process?

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  • As a Quaker I have affirmed - and am aware that many of my predecessors went to jail for contempt for doing the same.
    It is due to the double standard of truth that Quakers objected - deciding that all honorable Friends should tell the truth all the time, so implying that they did not was wrong, just as making the oath was - IS - wrong.

    As it happens I am a Quaker atheist now, some would have a problem with that, but the law should be 100% secular, that all my Friends agree - and it is especially important in an era where religious groups are trying to get their religious laws enshrined in state law for the most ridiculous of ends.

    I commend this proposal to the house.

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  • Totally agree with the sentiments expressed. Reminds me of my days as a magistrates' legal advisor (or "court clerk" as we were then known). Unfortunately, the memory fails with increasing years so I cannot remember exactly where this occurred, but it was either Lewes or Oldham Magistrates' Court where I had been sent to assist.

    Whilst the magistrates' were out considering a sentence, I was talking to the prosecutor and defence lawyer and was stood by the witness box. I then noticed that the New Testament placed by the oath book was not the New Testament at all .... it was a Collins pocket English Dictionary

    Who knows how long it had been there. I asked the usher in court and he said the book had been there for ages. He was as surprised as me when I showed him what the book was.

    We kept quiet .... did not want a whole parcel of appeals arriving on the Justices' Clerk's desk ... but did ask the usher to make sure it was replaced asap

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  • Let us assume for a moment that there are people who might be comfortable perjuring themselves in the eyes of the law, but who would not lie having sworn a religious oath.

    It follows from that assumption that justice is better served if those people swear a religious oath. Giving them the option of a religious oath on top of an affirmation doesn’t achieve the desired goal, because those who are about to lie will choose not to swear the additional religious oath. The same is true if there were to be a choice between affirmation or religious oath. The desired effect is achieved only if the oath is required for all except those who “object” to such a ritual (in effect, renouncing/denying their belief).

    I am sure that the opening assumption has some validity. I suspect it is less far-reaching than it once was, but I doubt that its reach has diminished sufficiently to make it worthless.

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  • The angry ranting and campaigning suggests you have some doubts? Difficult to see why a genuine atheist at ease with himself would waste so much time attacking "mumbo jumbo".

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  • If the text of the affirmation set out the maximum penalties for perjury, we might find far fewer people who are prepared to do it.

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  • This statement:
    "Let us assume for a moment that there are people who might be comfortable perjuring themselves in the eyes of the law, but who would not lie having sworn a religious oath. "
    Is bizarre.
    If you are so religious you would not lie having sworn an oath, would you also be so irreligious as to lie when not under oath (which is what I understand perjury to be?)
    Obviously it is not unknown for religious folk to be hypocrites, but even so, this seems very strange reasoning.

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  • Simplifying this process is key and it should be based on a secular principles in not promoting one religion over and above another. It's a neutral position and leaves no room for ambiguity over the intentions of the person giving the oath.

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  • Scotland manages fine without oaths; it did away with all forms of oaths, other than in court, by section 11 of the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995.

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/7/section/11

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  • Let us assume - with equal evidence, or lack of it - that there are people who do not take religious flummery seriously and find religious oath taking more ridiculous than awe inspiring.
    It follows from that assumption that justice is better served if those people are not pushed to swear a religious oath which has no meaning for them, is not required or particularly expected to have any meaning for them and which serves only to distance them from their own responsibility to give honest evidence.
    Or in other words, some actual evidence that oath taking leads to an increase in honesty would be helpful to see at this point in the debate.

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  • Few things more amusing than the 'secular' idea that folk are allowed an opinion on Man United/trash tv/the financial crisis, but that no one dare express their faith at work or in the public square. That said, I agree with our learned journo on this one-oaths are a slightly random practice, given Jesus' line to his followers: "Do not swear an oath at all....simply let your 'yes' be 'yes', and your 'no', 'no'."

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  • All it should need is a formal and explicit warning given by the judge to the witness of the consequences of perjury and then equally explicit affirmation by the witness that they fully understand this. Differentiating between oaths and affirmations merely creates artificial distinction, which could be prejudicial to the perceived credibility of a witness' evidence, particularly in jury trials, where adverse inference could be drawn when someone 'objects' to giving evidence under oath. Oaths are anachronistic, unnecessary and offensive to some, whether they are religious or not. Affirmations should be standard, in my view, and also with no option to supplement one with a (potentially) quasi religious 'oath' (which could be open to abuse by non-religious witnesses with a view to elevating their testimony).

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  • The debate assumes that anyone who is reminded about the potential consequences of perjury will only be worried about the consequences in the here-and-now.
    Having been involved in a trial in which it was critical to my client that his opponent's witnesses be compelled to take the oath on the Koran (because he was sure that otherwise they would have no compunction about lying in their evidence), and then seeing for myself the kerfuffle and agonies that ensued when the senior member of the family for the other party (who initially assumed that he could merely Affirm) was told by the Judge that he must take the oath on the Koran, I am convinced that evidence on religious oath can be very important in the adminstration of justice.
    If a person has no religious faith, affirmation is entirely appropriate. When a person of deep religious faith (especially where that is part of their public "face") refuses to give an oath relevant to that faith, the religious oath still clearly serves its purpose.

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  • The problem is that the existing oath is just too wimpish, and doesn't induce a suitable state of terror in the deponent.
    A better alternative would be:
    "I confirm that everything I have said in this document is true, and if I have deliberately lied may I be struck dead before the sun sets this day, and may terror and misery be inflicted on my family and my loved ones for all the days of their lives."
    That should give them pause for thought!
    And by the way, when do we get a pay rise for administering oaths? If any other trade or profession hadn't had a wage increase for 17 years they would be on strike by now and / or demonstrating outside the MoJ!
    "What do we want?"
    "An increase in the level of fees presecribed by the Commissioners for Oaths (Fees) Order 1993 if it please you m'lud".
    "When do we want it?"
    "As soon as reasonably convenient please, making due allowance for the pressure on parliamentary time".
    Hmm, perhaps something a bit more punchy is needed ...

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  • Are we really going to pretend that the law is not based on religion? Although the method in which oaths are administered is an obvious demonstration of the link to both lay and legally qualified, but surely all legal practitioners can acknowledge that historically common law has developed with Christian principles in mind.

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  • As a relatively freshly-qualified youngster I did once attempt to inject a note of levity into the process of administering the oath. After all the proper formalities had been concluded, and the deponent had sworn on the bible, I chirruped "... and if what's in here isn't true it's perjury, and more importantly your souls will be damned in eternity."
    The look of horror that I got in return was such that I've never used that line again...

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  • In court the other day, we had a witness and defendant who clearly due to the manner of their dress proclaimed quite strict adherence to a particular faith. When offered the relevant holy book, they declined it and affirmed instead. It was perhaps inevitable that the Justices took a particular view regarding the veracity of their evidence.

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  • Sigh> There must be some element of law reform which is more pressing than this, surely.
    I never fail to be astonished by the militancy of the secular mafia. Every client I've ever had swear an oath or affirmation appreciated being offered a choice. Making an oath is a personal issue - where is the prejudice to anyone in there being a suite of options?
    And, in administering the oath as a solicitor it isn't about the solicitor. This article bemoans "the solicitor is 'obliged to say all these religious words too', regardless of the solicitor’s own beliefs... section 1(2) then places a 'further imposition' on the solicitor. He or she has to 'endure' this without any quibble if the person taking the oath wants to 'do all this ceremonial mumbo-jumbo'" Good grief. You're an officer of the court and a member of a noble profession. You're getting paid. Seriously. Can we please discuss something important?

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  • Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
    Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.

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  • Anonymous | 17-Feb-2012 12:03 pm

    Sigh> There must be some element of law reform which is more pressing than this, surely.
    I never fail to be astonished by the militancy of the secular mafia.
    ------------------------
    I am sorry if some people's objection to the imposition of a medieval world-view regarding intervention on the part of a supernatural being should someone engaged in legal proceedings break an oath bores you but dismissing those who raise a legitimate concern by describing them as militant criminals is not a very productive way to resolve the issue.

    A legal system should reflect the society in which it operates and, in the case of the UK in the 21st Century, that society is predominately secular. Even if you presuppose the existence of the supernatural, it cannot be right for faith-groups who attribute miraculous power to the written word to impose their brand of superstition on a system in which people with an increasingly diverse range of beliefs and those who do not accept the existence of the supernatural have to function together effectively.

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  • It's obvious that the biggest liars want to have the oath law removed. They also know that perjury is seldom persecuted, so the keep on lying. I would fight to the last bone NOT to have the religious oath removed. The so-called legal business consists of nothing else but liars and lies. Swearing on the Bible to tell the truth and nothing but the truth with having God as a witness might remind at least some (not all) of their moral (Biblical) obligation when they testify. There is no imposition placed on the solicitors by administering the oath They knew when they enrolled in law school that will be required of them. It's 'mumbo-jumbo' to you. That's why you wish to be "anonymous". Rest assured, I would not hire you to represent me. People who refuse to swear on the Bible have no right to come before the Court of this land.

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