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Report No. 28

17. Should oaths be abolished?.-It has been argued, that the good man speaks the truth without an oath, while a bad man mocks at its obligation. Oaths, however, do serve some useful purpose. The case in favour of oaths can best be put in the following words1:-

"It must be owned great numbers will certainly speak truth without an oath; and too many will not speak it with one. But the generality of mankind are of middle sort,-neither so virtuous as to be safely trusted, in case of importance, on their bare word; nor yet so abandoned as to violate a more solemn engagement.

Accordingly, we find by experience that many will boldly say what they will by no means venture to swear; and the difference which they make between these two things is often indeed much greater than they should; but still it shows the need of insisting on the strongest security. When once men are under that awful tie, and, as the Scripture phrase is, have bound their souls with a bond (Numb. xxx 2), it composes their passions, counterbalances their prejudices and interests, makes them mindful of what they promise, and careful of what they assert; puts them upon exactness in every circumstance: and circumstances are often very material things. Even the good might be too negligent, and the bad would frequently have no concern at all, about their words, if it were not for the solemnity of this religious act."

The same view has been expressed by Wigmore, who says2:-

"The class of persons whose belief makes them capable of being influenced by the prospect implied in an oath is decidedly the immense mass of the community. Furthermore, in practice these persons are apparently, for the most part, actually influenced for the better, in their mental operations on the witness-stand, by the imposition of the oath, There appears, therefore, in the present conditions, looked at as a whole, no reason to call for the abandonment of the oath for those persons whose belief makes them susceptible to its sanction."

1. Archbishop Secker, quoted in Best on Evidence, (1922), pp. 44-45.

2. Wigmore on Evidence, (2nd Edn.) (1923), Vol. III, p. 676, para, 1827(1).

18. The practice of taking an oath has been in existence in this country since ancient times, and the Indian Oaths Act, 1873, itself is nearly a century old. Oaths have also been recognised in our Constitution. [Articles 60, 69, 99, 124(6), 148(2), 159, 188 and 209.] Taking all the circumstances into consideration, we would not recommend the abolition of oaths.

Indian Oaths Act, 1873 Back

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