Proposals that witnesses will no longer be required to swear before God or make an affirmation when filing affidavits have been criticised as an attack on “genuine pluralism” and “badly thought through”.
The Cabinet on Tuesday backed the provisions first mooted 30 years ago by the Law Reform Commission to end the requirement for an oath or affirmation when witnesses are filing affidavits, a way of swearing a statement of evidence outside court.
Instead, they will a make “statement of truth” with a one-year prison sentence for breaking it.
But Independent Senator Rónán Mullen told said that a “legally sanctionable statement of truth is a meaningless formula” because the law can “provide for the prosecution of those who knowingly make false statements or averments in affidavits”.
The provision “is further weakened by providing that all this could be done remotely, without a person having to present before a solicitor or notary public to make this statement of truth”, he told the Seanad.
The measure “ignores a genuine lack of pluralism that exists in the requirement of a religious oath for presidential and judicial appointees”. He said “this is all rather badly thought through”.
Mr Mullen, a barrister, hit out at the Law Society which said the proposals would put an end to the "embarrassing" practice of a witness having to indicate their religious faith when making an affidavit.
The Galway-based Senator said such a move “attacks genuine pluralism by depriving people swearing an affidavit of the option of making a solemn oath”.
He said that “if we must”, they could introduce a statement of truth “but in addition to an oath or affirmation”.
He cited the Seanad where instead of a prayer in Irish and English “we start with 30 seconds of silence, which is a very appropriate way to recognise that all members, of all faiths and none, approach their duties here in a solemn and respectful fashion”.
About 150,000 affidavits are filed every year, according to the Courts Service.
Under the present system, witnesses must swear upon a Bible or other religious book before a solicitor or notary public that the contents of their affidavits are true. A non-religious litigant can make an affirmation which does not mention a higher being but only after they explicitly decline to take a religious oath.
Under the proposed system, witnesses can make a non-religious “statement of truth”, without having to declare if they believe in a god or not”.
Jurors and witnesses appearing in court will still have to take an oath or affirm and newly appointed judges will still have to swear before God.