The government ‘Oath reform’ 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.
Witnesses will no longer be required to swear before God or make an affirmation when filing affidavits. Affidavits are a way of swearing a statement of evidence outside court which saves the witness having to give live evidence. About 150,000 are filed every year, according to the Courts Service.
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. Under the present system, witnesses must swear upon a Bible or other religious book before a solicitor or notary public that the contents of their affidavits are true.
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.
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.”
Other reforms outlined in the Bill include granting the Minister for Justice the power to rapidly increase the number of coroners in an area to deal with deaths resulting from the pandemic or help clear the backlog of inquests which has built up due to the lockdown.
The Bill also vastly expands the use of video-links in courts. Currently video-links are mainly used for prisoners in custody for routine case management hearings. Under the proposals, courts will be able to sentence convicted criminals over video-link, including those on bail. However, criminal trials will still take place in a live setting.
The Bill also allows remote hearings of non-court tribunals such as the Workplace Relations Commission. Non-incorporated bodies, such as GAA clubs, will also be able to hold remote AGMs.
NB – This is a guide for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have an issue requiring legal advice, please contact any of the team at Nolan Farrell & Goff, whose numbers can be found on our website, www.nfg.ie