Witnesses will no longer be required to swear before God or make an affirmation when filing affidavits under proposals agreed by Cabinet on Tuesday.
Instead they will be able to make what will be known as a “statement of truth” and will face a maximum one year prison term for breaking it.
The proposals will put an end to the “embarrassing” practice of a witness having to indicate their religious faith when making an affidavit, the Law Society said.
The proposal is one of a raft of reforms contained in the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 which outlines both temporary measures to help the courts during the coronavirus pandemic and long-term reforms of the justice system.
An honest question anyone might have, reading this: What is the difference between the present affirmation and a “statement of truth”? The affirmation already provides a secular option for those who do not wish to take a religious oath, and there’s no enquiry as to your religious views. A Judge simply asks “do you wish to swear, or affirm”, and you make your choice. He or she doesn’t tut-tut at your lack of faith if you take the affirmation instead of the oath.
These are your present options, in the case of an affidavit:
An oath sworn in the presence of a Notary Public, which will be transferred to the affidavit, is as follows:
“I swear by Almighty God that this is my name and handwriting, and that the contents of this my affidavit are true.”
If a person refrains from taking an oath due to religious reasons, a solemn affirmation will be made as follows:
“I, (the name) do solemnly and sincerely affirm that this is my name and handwriting, and that the contents of this my affidavit are true.”
What’s the offensive bit there? Is it that the word “solemnly” has religious overtones, or something?
The Law Reform Commission, who recommended the change, seem to say in their report that they believe the affirmation to “require a declaration that the person has no religious belief”:
Clearly, the present law is in a number of respects unsatisfactory. In the first place, it has been seen that many forms of oath are at best embarrassing and at worst offensive to the religious beliefs of the persons to whom they are meant to apply. If the witness or deponent objects to the taking of an oath in such form, he must either –
indicate some other form and declare it to be binding on his conscience; or
declare that he has no religious belief, or that the taking of an oath is contrary to his religious belief, in which case he may affirm.
But in the first instance, this is not true in practice. And in the second instance, there’s a second problem: If a person is, in fact, religious, then a non-religious “statement of truth” will hold significantly less moral weight than an oath on the bible. The whole point of the oath on the bible, after all, is that it’s a form of self-curse: You’re implicitly damning yourself if you swear on the holy book to be truthful, and then lie.
The oath emerged, of course, in the middle ages, when people took religion a little more seriously than they do now, but the principle is the same: Since we cannot read somebody’s mind, we ask them to provide some sort of proof that they are telling the truth. In those days, when the concept of damnation was universally taken seriously, it made sense to ask people to take an oath which might damn them were it to be broken.
Whether an oath retains that level of persuasiveness today is an open question, but one thing should be clear: A “statement of truth” is meaningless, since the only penalty for breaching it is temporal, in the event that one is found out (which is always a low risk proposition).
Indeed, if you wanted to abolish the oath, by all means, abolish it. But replacing it with a statement of truth is utterly pointless, isn’t it? Just make it a criminal offence to give false evidence in legal proceedings, and abolish the whole charade altogether, if that’s what you want to do.
But anyway, this is all the product of secular minds: They have in their possession a mechanism – the oath – which other people take very seriously, and they want to abolish it because they don’t take it seriously themselves. It is entirely stupid, and entirely representative of how Ireland has been governed for the past two decades, or so. If it is old or religious, it’s bad, and it’s got to go. And we’ll replace it with something modern, and utterly meaningless.