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Oaths and affirmations in a court of law

by
01 November 2013

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From Mr Christopher Whitmey
Sir, - On 19 October, the Magistrates' Association rejected a call to change the oath that a witness takes to a non-religious format.

Surely, the primary question is: "Why the need for witnesses to swear or affirm?" The answer must be to make the witness realise and acknowledge that, if the truth is not told, there is the risk of serious consequences: the Perjury Act 1911.

It is not to declare or uphold their belief in God: true or false. If the latter, then with no apparent immediate consequences: which, in the circumstances, is anomalous.

Under the Statutory Declarations Act 1835, an untruth in a written statement under the simple words, "I, A.B., do solemnly and sincerely declare, that . . . and I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true, . . ." carries the risk of imprisonment under the Perjury Act 1911.

As a Christian, I prefer, as a witness, to use the wording that is rejected by the magistrates' AGM: "I promise very sincerely to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and I understand that if I fail to do so I will be committing an offence for which I will be punished and may be sent to prison."

Besides putting all witnesses in the same situation, it would render Article XXXIX otiose.

CHRISTOPHER WHITMEY
Oldstone Furlong, Fownhope,
Hereford HR1 4PJ

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