25 JULY 1840, Page 12



ence of a Deity ? in tlas a.cond place, how can we learn whether he anti; 1pate pueislenent les-ease the ;let of giving false evidence is in itself criminal ; os becaes-e, by the conjuting process of in- voking punishment upon his own In :al in the event of his swearing to a fill:ad:nod, he has foreel Cod to punish an act otherwise indif- ferent ? 'Unless we are csedstin that he believes ill the existence of a Deity, it is clear that Ids sat!: airOINIS U.S no rational grounds far stronger conviction of 1:s vesaeity. Assuming that he believes in the existence of a God, nil believes that that Boil will punish hint for giving false evidence beeettse of some inherent criminality in the act, his oath allbrds as no additional gstarantee of his veracity. If he entertain such crude and childish notions of the attributes of Deity that he believes the ceremony of an oath can render criminal an act otherwise indifferent, we have no safeguard against his at- IT is rather a satisfactory indication of the progress of rational opi- nion, that at this late period of the Parliamentary session 150 Members of the House of Commons can be collected to listen to a debate and give their votes on a bill introduced by a private gentleman for ameliorating our jurisprudence in the matter of evi- dence supposed to require the suction of an oath. It is yet more satisfactory, that of this 150, no fewer than 91 voted in litvour of the rational view of the question. It is true that a due modicum of nonsense was spoken on the occasion by the Members fbr Oxford and Cambridge; but this was" their vocation, I lal ;" and they had the whole attic argument on their side to themselves. Sir ROPERT !Nous said—" Men spoke more restrictedly and more carefully when speaking under the sanction of an oath, than when speaking under no sanction." The question is not between the " sanction of an oath" and " no sanction": it is between the sanction of an oath and the sanction of anticipated punishment if found to have delivered false evidence. &sides, did it never occur to Sir ROBERT, that making falsehood on oath punishable, and falsehood not on oath venial, has a direct tendency to create the low state of veracity to which he refers? Mr. Gounnuns said—" That there was a limit to conscientious scruples, was admitted by the very bill before the House as strongly its lie wished." Who- ever is curious to know the strength of the admission " wished" for by 1`.1r.601;1.11U11N, need only look to what followed—" The honour- able gentleman, bv his bill, limited it to individuals who professed Christianity : he bad no regard for the conscientious scruples of Mussulmans or Ilindoos." Mr. COULnURN is not unreasonable : if people will only disregard the conscientious scruples of Mussul- mans and Ilindoos, he will make large concessions. l le will even permit them to regard the conscientious scruples of Papists.

It is not by objections suet as are ffirnished from the mints of Oxford or Cambridge, that the progress of the opinions partially embodied in the Affirmation Bill of Mr. Ilswss is to be arrested. Nor is it with the triumph of such a partial measure that their advocates are to rest contented. In the question whether the establishment of truth as a basis fur judicial procedure lie facili- tated or impeded by insisting that no evidence shall be received in a court of justice except under the auction of an oath, society has too much at stake to be deterred assn inquiry by mere bugbears. It was well put by Mr. WAnut•...uos in the course of the debate to which we are refbrring, that tit:: persons of tender conscience who ask relief from the esactien of an oath are not the only parties

\rho have tut interest it: tht• granting of their request. If it be re- fused, they cannot give evideese in a court of justice—except at a sacrifice of their conssientionssess, which must diminish the value of their evidence. Every it lama who is thus deprived of a wit- ness, suffers injury by the denial of their request. The measure introduced by Mr. Liss.; is:t a mere measure of relief to scru- pulous consciences : it is a measure for lending greater security to every individual who may rcsphire tbr the establishment of his just rights the evidence of a pensai who thinks swearing an immoral or irreligious mt. The bre el 0eestion can no longer be evaded—Is it conducive to tit._! ends of ju>tiee that evidence in courts of law be given upon oath' Sir ItunekT Isci.is and Mr. (iousmods are not entitled to say that this will be the position of the ease if Mr. Ilswrs's !till lie carried it is the position of the case now ;

and Mr. eve, will not do away with the necessity of taking up the Tiestion, although it will remove or alleviate certain existing; hardships. The great question to be answered is this—Is an oath an effi- cient instrument fbr insuring veracious testimony regarding dis- puted questions of fitet % 'l'o arrive at the true solution of this

problem, it is necessary to fbrm a correct notion of the nature and modus operandi of au oath. 'f he person swearing to the truth of a

declaration invokes the 1)sity to punish hint if he say what is false. The credence we ciefd to evidence delivered upon oath rests upon two assumpCoes—first, that the party taking the oath believes in the esisteece of a Deity ; second, that

he believes the Deity sill, ie Coni,C,Ill'ace of his invocation, punish him it' lie say I. This second article of belief on the past of the person swee.•:ng, must rest iin his previous con-

viction either that the Deity will panisii him for the inherent crimi- nality in the act of deliverng like testimony, or that there is sonic magic power in his invocation compelling the Deity (the Omnipo-

tent !) to do what he otherwise would net or might not have done. Now let us ask ourselves, how can we learn, in the first place, whether the party sweerim, does or does not believe in the exist- tempting to counteract its effect by a previous oath to swear falsely, 'Phis is no supposititious case : the thing has been done—it is far front being en unnatural conception in a mind so dark and per., vested as to think that an act of his can control and limit the ne. tions of Omnipotence. Viewed in the abstract, the administration of an oath is a very inadequate instrument for insuring trustworthy evidence.

Viewed in its practical workings, it is equally found wanting, There is scarcely a penal code of ancient or modern date which; does not contain punishments for perjury. The legislator who enacts a punishment for perjury, declares that he has in practice found the administration of an oath on inadequate instrument for insuring trustworthy evidence. There is not a judge who believes that the administering of an oath enables him to dispense with the process of cross-questioning a witness, or entitles him to assume that his evidence is true without weighing the probability or itnprobability of his story. Try the matter any way we please- () priori, by arguments deduced from the constitution of man's mind—a posteriori, by looking to the practical results of the system—the employment of the sanction of an oath as a means of insuring veracious testimony is a failure.

It would be well if it were only a failure: but in truth, the practice of appealing to the sanction of an oath in important matters has a detrimental effect upon the veracity of society at large. People arc taught to entertain confused notions regarding the culpability of fidsehood : they imagine that the crime consists not in misleading others, but in violating their solemn promise to speak true. It is on this account that we find men more lax in their statements unguaranteed by an oath, than in those made after an oath has been exacted from them. The practice of ad- ministering oaths in ,judicial investigations, produces that very laxity upon which Sir ROBERT INGLIS rests his argument for exact- ing oaths. The next question is—liave we any more efficient engine for extracting truth than the administration of an oath ? We have the engine which has been employed to prevent false swearing-- punishment. If by punishment you can prevent men from swear- ing to a falsehood, by punishment you can prevent them from telling a falsehood. Why take two steps when one is sufficient? Why, with a view to make a man speak truth, force him to swear that lie will tell the truth in the first instance, and tell him that lie will be punished in time second if he swear fhlsely ? Why not punish hint at once if he do not tell the trufii ? We know that the dread of punishment deters most men film many criminal acts. We never can be assured that the administration of an oath will deter any given man front telling a falsehood, if' it is his interest to conceal or pervert the truth. Since the administration of oaths has proved inadequate to insure true evidence—as the practice of legislators and judges show that it has proved inadequate—try what will be the effect of attaching a punishment to wilful or malt' sinus uttering of' untruths.

We have not argued this question upon religious grounds, be- cause We Wish the assent of men of all sects and opinions. We wish the practice of exacting oaths from judicial witnesses entirely abolisheth—in the first place, because it does not afford any addi- tional security that the evidence given is true; in the second place, because it attaches a factitious and undue value to evidence which may be false; in the third place, because it bewilders men's minds, and leads them to entertain perplexed and dangerous notions of right and wrong; and in the fourth place, because a well-classified and graduated system of punishments for false witnesses would do what the system of administering oaths cannot do. T. these considerations we may acid, that the practice of exacting oaths in courts of law deprives us of a very valuable class of witnesses. There is, we confess, to our apprelteusion, some- thing very nearly approaching to blasphemy in the idea that a mere man can by invoking punishment upon himself in the event of his doing some spccifi,d act, ftwee the Deity, instead of adhering to his own omniscient resolves, to conform to the will of the weak mortal who binds hint by this magic for- mula. Viewed in this light, men of a trivial turn of mind are apt to scoff at oaths : but men in whom the sentiment of vene- ration is largely developed, as a phrenologist would express himself, must regard the bare idea with horror. Ilence it is, that men in whom with deep religious sentiment is combined great conscientiousness, have a strong and often an irrepressible aversion to (as it appears to them) sport with the Deity in this irreverent manner. An oath is to them a mocking of their Clod—a practical blasphemy. In this view of the matter they feel themselves con- firmed by the Scripture precept, " Swear nut at all." Such men as we are describing are necessarily excluded by the exaction of an oath from giving evidence in a court of law : and yet it is apparent that such men—accustomed to Iveigh even their words as "for what they must one day render on account in judgment"—are among the most trustworthy witnesses we can conceive. The interests of truth and justice must materially stiffer by their exclusion.

On these grounds do we desire that the bill introduced by Mr. liswns may pass into a law; and that ere long the practice of exacting oaths from witnesses ill courts of justice may be entirely abolished, and that there may be substituted for them a system of classified pullishments for false witnesses proportioned to the amount of the delinquency. Law, morality, and religion, would be equal gainers by the exchange.