Oaths and affirmations system to be modernised
Witnesses will no longer be required to indicate their religious faith when filing an affidavit under a proposed overhaul of the oaths and affirmations system.
Ministers agreed on Tuesday to reform the process as part of the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020.
Michele O’Boyle, president of the Law Society of Ireland, said: “The current system of oaths and affirmations, which dates back to 1888, is contrary to the right to privacy and contrary to a person’s dignity in legal proceedings.
“Requiring a person to either declare one’s religious conviction, or lack thereof, is, by any standard entirely inappropriate in a progressive, 21st century legal system.”
The Law Society has campaigned for years on the need for a modernisation of the system. The Law Reform Commission also backed the abolition of religious oaths in a 1990 report.
“Among other issues, the Society argues that, not only does it represent significant procedural challenges for practitioners in an increasingly pluralist society, it also can give rise to unfair perceptions on the credibility of the evidence given where individuals decline to take a religious oath,” Ms O’Boyle said.
However, the Law Society has noted that the proposed legislation would still require jurors and witnesses giving evidence viva voce in court to swear a religious oath or make an affirmation.
Ms O’Boyle said: “We believe the oath-based system should be replaced entirely, to reflect the diversity and inclusivity of Ireland today.
“We welcome these proposed changes when written and electronic affidavits are being filed. We also welcome this change in the context of COVID-related safety issues, allowing witnesses, for the first time, to make a statement of truth electronically.”