23 October 2013
Plan to end Bible oaths rejected
A plan to end the practice of witnesses swearing on a bible before they give their testimony has been rejected.
The Magistrates' Association, which represents three-quarters of the 23,000 magistrates across England and Wales, discussed whether or not to ban the practice because of the decreasing number of people identifying with religion, according to the BBC.
Currently, a witness has to swear on their holy book of choice, unless they are atheist, in which case they have to pledge the "solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm" to tell the truth.
Supporters of the motion argued that holy books are no longer the moral totem they once were and people are finding it increasingly easy to lie under oath because of this.
But opponents of the plan, which were said to include church leaders, believe it strengthens a witness' credibility in the eyes of the court.
Bristol magistrate Ian Abrahams, who was behind the motion debated by the Magistrates' Association at a summit, said people are no more likely to tell the truth under oath and a greater sense of the seriousness of perverting the course of justice should be imbued via an alternative oath.
Mr Abrahams' alternative pledge, which garnered some support among the Magistrates' Association, would have read: "I understand that if I fail to [tell the truth], I will be committing an offence for which I will be punished and may be sent to prison."
However, a Nick Freeman, a lawyer who voted against Mr Abrahams, said: "Evidence must be strengthened if people swear on religious texts. The way you stamp out lying under oath is to punish people who do so, not to get rid of the religious oath.
"By changing it you are depriving people with a religious faith of the chance to reinforce their evidence by swearing on their religious text."
Any changes voted on would likely have needed parliamentary approval before being implemented, but this will now not be needed.
By Chris Stevenson