Swearing of oaths is it still necessary?

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Doreen Hammond, The Author

BY: Doreen Hammond

This is standard practice that for court proceedings, people are required to swear the oath based on their religious beliefs and practices.

Therefore, in most courts, the Bible, the Quran and the cross are kept for this purpose.

Though it is difficult to trace exactly when the practice started in Ghana, like most of Ghana’s laws, it is likely to have been derived from the common law which Article 11 (2) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana defines to include “the rules of law generally known as the common law, the rules generally known as the doctrines of equity and the rules of customary law including those determined by the Superior Court of Judicature”.

It may be safe to say the practice probably started from the onset of that and, perhaps, it also dates far back to religious laws and traditions.

Whichever the case, it is obvious that the essence is to get people to speak the truth and nothing but the truth.

It is believed that people are less likely to lie on something they believe in, especially if it is linked to their faith.

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For example, a Christian under oath will have no option but to speak the truth which he/she knows about a case once he or she swears by the bible as by so doing an obligation will be vested in whatever the person promises or swears on.

And object of belief is sort of charged with the responsibility to ensure that the person under oath speaks the truth.

It is expected that people who swear the oath must fear the deity as it will not sit idly as oaths are sworn and broken in their name.

Therefore, oath swearing is an added motivation to tell the truth.
However, one can refuse to “swear” on anything but “affirm” that what is being testified to is the whole truth. This places one under possible penalty of perjury if found to have lied.

Over the years, however, it appears this time tested and solemn practice is gradually losing its meaning.

This is because most people now hold the Bible, Cross or the Quran, swear the oath and still lie through their teeth. Kweku Blessing’s case is one that I personally witnessed.

Kweku was a prime suspect in a case and was put before court. At the court, Kweku, a Christian, chose a Bible and duly swore “to speak the truth and nothing but the truth”.

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However, the events which unfolded showed that Kweku spoke everything but the truth. In fact, his narration rather confused me since I was present when the incident occurred.

It was the direct opposite of what happened. Moreover, what confounded me was his dexterity at lying without blinking.

As would be expected, he was freed by the poor judge who took his lies, hook, line and sinker.

As we exited the courthouse amid drumming, dancing and the pouring of powder to signify victory, I looked Kweku in the eye and he responded with a victory sign. I walked closer to him, shook hands with him and whispered in his ears: “Kweku, you are a professional liar”.

His response was very emphatic. “Even Peter did it” in obvious reference to when Peter denied Jesus Christ thrice before the cock crowed. He asked me.

“Will you rather speak the truth and go to jail or lie and be freed? From that day, the phatic communion between Kweku and I has been “Even Peter did it!”

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As I walked home, I kept questioning whether swearing the oath was still relevant.

I thought about countries where because of the unreliability of this practice, devices such as the lie detector has been introduced.

I remember that a former president spoke about the need for one.

I wondered whether it was not about time we introduced some of these modern devices to help us arrive at the truth.

If people are comfortable to hold the Cross, Bible and Quran and still go ahead to lie, then what is the essence of going through this ritual? I see it as a waste of time and ridiculing the whole swearing process.

Maybe it is about time we looked at a more effective way of appealing to people to speak the truth in court.

The oath does not seem to be doing the trick anymore. Do you have any ideas? Would you swear an oath, lie and go scot-free or speak the truth and risk going to jail?

Writer’s E-mail: aamakai@rocketmail.com/doreen.hammond@graphic.com.gh

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