Oaths and Affirmations (NSW)
In New South Wales, when a person gives evidence either orally or in writing, they are required to take an oath or make an affirmation that they will tell the truth. Oaths and affirmations are governed by the Oaths Act 1900. This page deals with oaths and affirmations in New South Wales.
An oath is a religious declaration that calls on God to bear witness to the truthfulness of the evidence being given. A religious oath can be taken in keeping with a number of religions, with different oaths being used by members of different religions.
Under section 11A of the Oaths Act 1900, an oath on the bible or Old Testament should be taken while the witness holds the scripture in their hand if they are capable of doing so. The witness says, “I swear by Almighty God as I shall answer to God at the Great Day of Judgment that I will speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
A Muslim, Buddhist or Chinese oath will also be accepted.
An affirmation is the non-religious equivalent of an oath. Under section 12 of the Oaths Act 1900, any person who objects to taking an oath may instead make a solemn affirmation. This involves stating that the witness ‘solemnly, sincerely and truly declares and affirms’ rather than swearing before God.
Both an oath and an affirmation involve making a solemn promise to tell the truth. A person who knowingly gives false testimony either under oath or affirmation may be found guilty of an offence.
When is an oath or affirmation made?
A person signing a statutory declaration or affidavit must take an oath or make an affirmation. This must be administered by a qualified person such as a Justice of the Peace, doctor, lawyer or pharmacist.
An oath or affirmation must also be taken when a person is:
- Being sworn in as a witness in a criminal or civil court proceeding
- Being sworn in as a juror in a criminal or civil trial
- Being sworn in an interpreter in a court proceeding
When a young child is called to give evidence in court, they may be asked to make a promise to tell the truth to the court rather than taking a formal oath or affirmation. This promise can be given in any form that is appropriate to the age and level of maturity of the child.
Perjury and other offences
Under section 25 of the Oaths Act 1900, a person who knowingly makes a false statutory declaration commits an offence punishable by five years imprisonment.
Under section 25A of the Oaths Act 1900, a person who wilfully and corruptly makes a false statutory declaration and derives or attempts to derive a material benefit from this commits an offence punishable by seven years imprisonment.
Under section 327 of the Crimes Act 1900, a person who makes a false statement under oath or affirmation is guilty of perjury, which is punishable by imprisonment for 10 years.
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