Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




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Monday, 10 February 2014

IS IT ALWAYS WRONG TO BE PREJUDICED AGAINST A WITNESS`S EXPRESSION OF RELIGIOUS FAITH?



We take for granted that defendants will be judged upon the evidence before a court and that any prejudices held by those presiding over that court will be set aside.  And that is generally  how it should be.   Nowhere is this pillar of procedure more important than in the case of culture and religion.  It could  fairly be said that prior to 1939 this was a “Christian country” however that term was defined.  In many ways the 2014 edition of the U.K. is a very distant derivative of its pre war ancestor and the judicial progeny of this era privileged to sit in judgement of their fellow citizens have arguably a more difficult task in facing their own prejudices than their predecessors.    

Census figures show that 176,632 people in England and Wales identify themselves as Jedi Knights, making it the most popular faith in the "Other Religions" category on the 2011 Census and the seventh most popular faith overall. My awareness of this religious group is confined to the understanding that its adherents do not practise their faith in any manner harmful or detrimental to others..  More to the point they don`t believe in human sacrifice or any other tenet which right minded people would find repulsive and against any concept of morality one might care to mention.  But here`s the rub……..where do beliefs, however honestly held, conspire against our concept of a just and humane society and more to the point; where do we place them within our courts system? 

 

If a Mexican appeared before us professing his belief as a descendant of Aztec priests and wishing to swear by his god  Huitzilopochtli with a consequent and stated belief in the removal from a person of his/her living human heart as his best means of eternal salvation would he be asked to affirm?  Would his testimony be regarded as tainted?  Would a self proclaimed Jew hater member of an extreme political party be entitled to the same consideration in the witness box as Joe public if such beliefs were tangential to the matter in hand?  During the recent court case of a Moslem woman who refused to remove her veil the judge was reported to have said that it would be  “"quite wrong" to be prejudiced against a person's expression of religious faith”.     If at a future time eg a self confessed jihadist sympathiser  recently returned from activities in Syria were to find himself in the witness  box would a jury be wrong to be prejudiced because of his beliefs which could or would be described  as an expression of religious faith?  

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