Defendants swearing a secular oath more likely to be found guilty

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New study looks at juror bias

Taking a secular oath or refusing to swear one can influence whether a jury believes you, a new study has found.

The research revealed a bias in jurors choosing to swear on the Bible who were found to be more likely to return a guilty verdict if the defendant takes a secular affirmation.

Both religious oaths and secular affirmations are equally legally binding and start with a pledge to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. However, the key difference is that the secular affirmation begins with “I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm,” whereas the religious version opens with “I swear by Almighty God”.

The research published in The British Journal of Psychology was a collaboration from researchers at Royal Holloway, Brunel University, and Bristol University. They conducted a mock trial where the 1,821 study participants were asked to act as jurors.

They uncovered three key findings, firstly that court witnesses who choose to swear an oath are more religious than those who choose the secular affirmation, but 20% of those swearing the oath did so because they believed it was the “more credible choice”.

The second finding was that a defendant’s choice between oath or affirmation can influence perceptions of their probable guilt, with those taking the affirmation perceived as slightly more likely to be guilty.

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Finally, the research found that these biased perceptions of guilt were enough to influence the outcome of a trial. Participants that swore an oath were shown to discriminate against an affirming defendant, whereas participants that swore an affirmation showed no discernible bias against affirming or oath-swearing defendants.

The study has been highlighted by Humanists UK, a non-religious charity, as evidence that the religious oath should either be abolished or sworn in private.

Professor Ryan McKay, the study’s lead author, commented:

“If taking the oath is seen as a sign of credibility, this could lead to discrimination against defendants who are not willing to swear by God. An earlier proposal to abolish the oath in England and Wales was defeated when opponents argued that the oath strengthens the value of witnesses’ evidence. This is ironic, as it seems to acknowledge that swearing an oath may give an advantage in court.”

Professor McKay refers to a 2013 proposal to abolish the requirement for witnesses to swear an oath on any holy book, which was rejected by the Magistrates’ Association.

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Pius XII

Christians are called to be honest and live moral lives. Christians believe in objective truth and morality.

So it is no surprise they are more likely to be found not guilty than secularists.



…it depends what parts of their faith/the Bible they pick and choose as their ‘objective truth’ doesn’t it.

For example, if they just take the nice bits that everyone already agrees with – don’t lie/don’t murder/do to others as you would have them do to you etc – then that’s fine.

But what if they also take the bit that says that homosexuality is sinful? Or that murdering people is absolutely fine if God tells you to do it (like Abraham). What then?



Uninformed take which upvoted by people similarly uninformed on the Christian faith.

An overwhelming majority of Christians around the world can’t pick and choose what they believe or treat as objective because they are part of magisterial churches with definitive teachings, e.g. catholic, orthodox.

Also anyone who picked and chose what they believed, wouldn’t be Christian would they. They’d just be people who believed what they wanted. That isn’t Christianity at all, which demands belief of core doctrines



Legal cheek where the fuck are you picking your readers from. This is making me want pivot out of my career as a solicitor before it even starts. Also this is obviously a discriminatory view against anyone who isn’t a christian based on religion/belief, which is a protected characteristic



that is simply not true, and an insult. It doesn’t require religious belief to have strong values. And religious beliefs (or professed religious beliefs) do not guarantee honesty.
or there would be no Christian criminals.


Hi Eye Queue

Juries are a terrible idea. It is hard to understand how thick Joe Public really are until one has to interact with them. Brexit was a real sign of the chasm between how stupid we think they are, and that is pretty thick, and how stupid they in fact are.


My real name is actually Joe

And im sure, if everyone thought about life in the exact same way you did, things would so much better eh?

The whole point of a jury is to give a non-legal perspective. They are heavily guided on legal issues by the judge (in the same way magistrates are guided by their legal advisor) – it is the facts that they rule on. And why should this be the thing we get a representative selection of the public to give their opinion on. Did X show ‘reasonable’ care? I dunno – maybe ask what should represent a slice of the public. If courts were restricted to leaving such questions to ‘highly educated’ / ‘im a smart remainer and everyone is dumb’ people such as yourself, I expect that liability for neligence would skyrocket due to high standards.

I havent even gone into the fact that they mitigate against judge prejudices / are coming to the table with their own social context in mind, thus enabling an impartial judgement. In this respect, juries are vital for the legitimisation of the court as an institution: they are, in a way, symbolic of societal condemnation of X crime / ruling on what was fair in X scenario.

I almost cant tell if you are having a laugh? I also used ot be infected by that contrarian instinct, but you will grow up dw.


Say it ain’t so Joe

Having spent years helping the guilty walk free, I can tell you that they fall hook, line and sinker for a standard range of basic tricks and ploys all of which only work because a large bloc within any jury are surprisingly dim and behave like sheep.



For christ sake?



The fact that the researchers immediately arrived at juror bias as the only possible explanation for the discrepancy reveals much about their motivations.

Perhaps religious people commit fewer crimes. Perhaps criminals who are cynical enough to pretend to be religious are better at covering their tracks. Perhaps all people, regardless of affiliation, struggle to invoke the concept of eternal judgement while laboured with a guilty conscience. None of these would be surprising.



Good counterpoints



The study was a mock trial so in theory they controlled for everything else and the only difference was the oath?


Smarter than you

You know a fact that I love is that Atheists were 10% more likely than Christians to pass the SQE in the latest statistical report. Fits well with the fact that a strongly disproportionate amount of uni professors are Atheists. Maybe these two lovely stats have something to do with the calibre of comments under this article. PS: anyone who attacked the logical steps in the research, you should read the article again, you missed several key points. And I don’t think you would pass SQE.


Jesus Saves But

The given name with by far the lowest average educational attainment in the US is Jesus.



The more interesting question is whether legal representatives should be advising their clients to swear a religious oath given this information.


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