HC Deb 24 June 1862 vol 167 cc1024-6

said, that he rose to move for leave to introduce a Bill to allow certain persons to make affirmations in all cases where an oath is or shall be required. He observed that last year a Bill received the sanction of Parliament altering in a certain degree the law of oaths, and he was anxious that the same principle should be carried a little further, to include jurors and others who were placed at a disadvantage as regarded the present state of the law. The Bill proposed also to enable persons not at present competent according to the English law to give evidence, to be heard upon making simple affirmations in the place of solemn affirmations, adopting in this respect a principle which already prevailed in India.


begged to second the Motion.


said, that he should have felt disposed to oppose the Bill, were it not for the lateness of the Session, and the improbability of its passing into law. At the same time he could not help stating his objections to the measure. It seemed monstrous to ask the House of Commons to abrogate a rule of the law of England and of every other civilized country merely because it was not part of the law of India. He affirmed that by the law of India perjury was permissible, and, in fact, was one of the institutions of the country. He did not like to move the rejection of the Bill on the first reading; but, in truth, the principle of the Bill might as well be discussed then as at any other time; and without wishing any discourtesy to the hon. Baronet, as he should not probably have the opportunity of addressing the House again upon it, he should move that leave be not given to the introduction of the Bill.


said, that his objections to the Bill were wholly of a practical nature. The object of judicial procedure was to discover the truth; and it was notorious, as a matter of experience, that many witnesses who would not scruple to tell a lie hesitated before they committed perjury. That principle had been affirmed by the practice before Committees of the House. He could not agree in thinking that the law of India sanctioned perjury; but he opposed the Bill simply because it would remove a principal means of obtaining the truth from a large class of witnesses.


said, that his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. M'Mahon) had used the most extraordinary argument. He was ready to admit into the courts of India witnesses amongst whom, he said, perjury was an institution, and yet he would not agree to the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock, which rendered the violation of an oath, impossible. The hon. and learned Member for Dundalk had omitted altogether the circumstance that administration of an oath subjected the witness to the penalties of perjury, if he deposed to what was false. It was not the oath, but the penalty for perjury, that induced witnesses before Parliamentary Committees to be more careful than they were before. He hoped that the House would enable the hon. Baronet to bring in his Bill, in order that they might see how the measure was worded, because a great deal depended upon the verbiage employed.


said, that he wished to look on the question merely as a practical one—merely as a mode of arriving at the truth in the administration of justice. Now, if they doubted the truth of a witness, what was the first thing they did? They examined him on the voir dire. If the witness was a truth-telling man, he might say that he did not believe in a future state of rewards and punishments, although he might know that it would tell against him. The witness, having thus given proof of his love for truth, would be ordered at once to stand down. But suppose he lied, and said that he believed in a future state when he did not, he was allowed to give his evidence. There were three motives which would restrain a person from bearing false witness. One was the fear of punishment, another was public opinion, and the third was religion. Now, what was the value of this last standing alone? The university oaths were an example in point. In that case there was no fear of punishment or dread of public opinion. There was nothing but the fear that Almighty God would punish them if they did not speak the truth. Well, persons took those oaths and broke them immediately. Such being the value of the religious sanction by itself, his hon. Friend asked that a person who professed not to be influenced by it might be allowed to get into the box and tell his story. He asked the House to put aside the poor little petty feeling about civilized nations aiding and assisting perjury. Had not the whole of the people of India been indignant at the assertion of a judge, who said that perjury was the common system of evidence in their courts. At present truth was dragged out of lying witnesses by cross-examination, and it was most ridiculous that they should reject the evidence of a man whose very first answer showed that he had a regard for the truth, and yet admit a witness who had no such regard for it. He trusted that the House would offer no objection to the introduction of the measure.


said, that he hoped there would be no division, and that the hon. Baronet would be allowed to bring in his Bill, in order that the House might see what it was like. His own impression was that there were very few persons who would tell a falsehood that would not also swear to the truth of it.

Motion made, and Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow certain Persons to make Affirmations in nil cases where an Oath is or shall be required.

The House divided:—Ayes 88; Noes 59: Majority 29.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir JOHN TRELAWNY and Mr. DILLWYN.

Bill presented, and read 1° to be read 2° on Tuesday next, and to be printed [Bill 166].