Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

earnestly would I press upon all magistrates to think seriously and practically on all that is conveyed in that sentiment!

always now fixed after some interval for the making of a solemn oath of this kind in many of the civil courts on the Continent.

104

CHAPTER VII.

ON OATHS AS AT PRESENT ADMINISTERED IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES.

On entering upon the next subject of inquiry, how are oaths administered in modern times, differing, as I have most reluctantly been compelled to do in some points from Archdeacon Paley, I must acknowledge that I cannot help agreeing with him altogether in this sentiment:—" The forms of oaths in different countries are very different, but in no country in the world I believe are they worse contrived, either to convey the meaning or impress the obligation of an oath, than in our own." I have already confessed this to be the inference to which patient inquiry and calm reflection have led me, at least as to the careless indifference with which oaths are often administered in public among us, compared with the more solemn manner usually observed in other countries. Lamentably full of superstition as are many of the forms which we must now describe; some revolting to our best feelings as Christians, others degrading to the very character of men, in that one point of conveying the meaning of an oath, and impressing its obligation, I cannot find one more objectionable than our own. Those who have ever engaged in inquiries of this nature, are aware of the difficulty of gaining such informal tion as deserves credit, and whilst I acknowledge the scanty supply which I have been enabled to procure, I trust that what is offered may be relied upon.

Chinese Oaths.

Chinese witnesses have been examined repeatedly in our courts of justice, within these few years. They have different modes of attesting the truth. One form of oath among them, is to write sacred characters on paper, which they afterwards burn, praying that the witness may be so burned if he swear falsely. Another is, the breaking of a saucer, and praying that so the deponent may perish, if he swerves from the truth*.

The most solemn and sacred is, the cutting off a cock's head with a similar imprecation. Another is, the ceremony of burning straw.

Oaths In India.

I Have had the satisfaction of receiving a letter from the very highest authority on this subject, from which the following is an extract. "In the Supreme Courts of Calcutta and Madras, Chris

* This second form has been repeatedly observed in the Old Bailey, as I have had from eye-witnesses, one of whom presided when the oath was so taken.

[ocr errors]

tians of every denomination are sworn on the Gospels; Jews on the Old Testament, Mahometans on the Koran. Chinese with the ceremony of burning some straw, and dashing a piece of china or earthenware on the ground, which I understand to be significative of the fate which is imprecated on the violation of the oath. The oaths of Hindus, until I became Chief Justice of the Court of Calcutta, were usually sanctioned there by the witness drinking holy water from the Ganges, and eating of the leaves of a sacred plant, the water and the leaves being both administered by a Brahmin. High caste Brahmins, but none else, were allowed to be sworn by the recital to them by a Pundit of a form laid down in their Shasters, or Holy Books. Very many took the oath on the Ganges' water with great reluctance, declaring that it was forbidden by their religion, and that they incurred sin by doing it. The judges, however, thought it the most solemn and awful form, and as such the most binding on their conscience. Having ascertained from the Pundits, to my own satisfaction, that the oath upon the Shasters was equally binding, I allowed all to be sworn in that way, who scrupled to be sworn on the Ganges' water."

"The following extract from a preface to a book, on the Practice of the Court, is an account of this change. 'A very striking example of this may be furnished in the practice, which till lately prerailed, of administering oaths to Hindu witnesses. Under the thirteenth section of the Charter, oaths are to be administered to persons who are not Christians, in such manner and form as the court shall esteem most binding on their consciences; and the court invariably insisted on all Hindu witnesses, with the exception of those who were Pundits, being sworn on the water of the Ganges. The grand jury frequently represented, and the judges invariably admitted the obstacles which this practice created to the administration of justice, and the hardships it occasioned to conscientious individuals. Respectable witnesses were deterred from entering the court, and those who came, were not unfrequently committed, because they would not act as their conscience forbade them; and I have more than once seen the anomaly of a judge committing a witness, while he gave him credit for the conduct by which the punishment was incurred. Yet no attempt was made to remedy the evil; and, from the institution of the court until Sir Charles Grey became Chief Justice, this practice so injurious to the public, so oppressive to individuals, was reprobated, deplored, and adhered to. Almost the first act of the present Chief Justice was to exercise that power which it is obvious the charter intended to confer, and it was directed that the witness should be sworn in whatever manner was most binding on, and not in that which most outraged

« EdellinenJatka »