Sunday, 20 October 2013

Religious v Secular Oaths in Court

Under the proposals all holy books of all religions would have been removed and people would instead take an affirmation promising “sincerely” to tell the truth.

On the National Secular Society website, it was reported earlier this month that 'Judges call for one secular oath for all'. See http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/10/judges-call-for-one-secular-oath-for-all#.UlmnVTpNrnQ.twitter

The article noted the following:

Magistrates (more acurately, the Magistrates' Assocation) are considering proposals (at the October AGM) to replace religious oaths and affirmations with a single oath for all defendants and witnesses. The motion was put forward by Iam Abrahams, a Magistrate from the Associations' Bristial and North Avon bench.

All those giving evidence in court would make a secular pledge which it is thought would make it fairer and more relevant for people to help them understand the importance of what they are saying.
Religious leaders, and supporters of the religious oath, have criticised the plans as an example of further destroying the history of Christianity in Britain, pointing out that people already have a chance to choose to take a non religious oath, the affirmation. (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10358696/Bible-oath-could-be-scrapped-from-courts.html)

However, NSS welcomed the move: 

"Stephen Evans, NSS campaigns manager, said: "Multiple religious and non-religious oaths unnecessarily make an issue out of a witness's religiosity in the courtroom. A single oath for all would protect witness of all religions and beliefs, including non-believers, from the potential religious prejudices of jurors. All witnesses should be on an equal footing, with cases decided on the evidence heard rather than the prejudices of those hearing it.

"Britain is not the Christian country it perhaps once was, so it is right that our institutions change to reflect this. Justice being done is the most important consideration, and this is a case where I'm sure most people of faith would be happy to swear the same oath as others, rather than insist that the legal system accommodate their religious preferences."

Nevetheless, according to the Telegraph today the proposals have been rejected; 'Magistrates throw out plan to ditch Bible oath'. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10390829/Magistrates-throw-out-plan-to-ditch-Bible-oath.html

So, swearing on the Bible will continue to be a central part of giving evidence in court. The oath will not be 'modernised' as had been proposed.

Will this be the end of the matter? I'm no so sure...

2 comments:

  1. See further discussion of this issues on Law and Religion UK

    http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2013/10/20/religion-and-law-round-up-20th-october/#comment-2186

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  2. The merits of religious oaths are also being discussed in Ireland:

    'Council of State calls for Constitution discussion on merits of religious oaths'
    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/council-of-state-calls-for-constitution-discussion-on-merits-of-religious-oaths-1.1561763

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