Through the Sikh CouncilUK, the Ministry of Justice asked for Sikh religious position regarding the taking of oaths in courts. Clarification was needed for
“jurors guidance and for their staff manual so that the Ministry’s staff have a greater awareness and understanding of Sikhism.”
Current guidance received from the Ministry (e-mail of 4 April 2016), reads,
“The [Sikh] community usually choose to Affirm but may choose to Affirm holding the Sikh holy book (they may refer to this as swearing). – The Sundar Gutka, an extract from the Guru Granth Sahib, is considered an appropriate form of a Sikh holy book to be used in courts. It should be covered with an orange or yellow cloth and only the juror should handle the holy book out of the cover.”
Reaction to this wording on behalf of the Sikh Missionary Society UK (affiliated to the Sikh Council) was immediate. Such wording and procedure is not acceptable. I was vaguely aware that the question had been addressed some years ago and general dissatisfaction had been expressed about the current practice from a Sikh religious perspective.
The guidance wording forwarded on behalf of the Sikh Missionary Society UK (copied to the Sikh Council UK), which has been accepted by the Ministry of Justice (e-mail of 21 April 2016) is as follows:
“Thank you for your reply. I have redrafted the guidance below, based on your response…. The guidance is for court staff on the swearing of oaths for Sikh customers and jurors:
“Guru Granth Sahib is the Living Spiritual Guide of the Sikhs. Taking the Guru or any part of it e.g. the Gutka, to the court constitutes an act of grave sacrilege. Stating something on oath using the word “God” or “Guru” is considered blasphemous in Sikh religion. So also is the act of giving testimony by touching or holding the Sikh Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib or any part of it e.g. the Gutka. All Sikhs should exercise their right to Testify by Affirmation which is more in accordance with Sikh belief and practice. Sikhs should not be asked to remove their head coverings in court.”
The Society agrees with similar interpretation of the Sikh religious position by prominent Sikhs like Lord Indarjit Singh and Sardar Harchand Singh of Canada. We agree with Harchand Singh when he wrote,
“An individual [Sikh or non-Sikh], who in one way or another, becomes instrumental in taking Guru Granth Sahib or a Gutka to the court room, renders himself guilty of committing a grave sin in the eyes of his Guru.”
We also agree with the advice given by Lord Indarjit Singh to the Deparment of Constitutional Affairs* in 2005,
“A solemn affirmation following a reminder of the consequences of perjury, would in all probability achieve a greater degree of justice than the swearing of oaths, not only for Sikhs but for people of all faiths.” [*The Department became part of the new Ministry of Justice.]
Any advice given on Sikh religious issues should be open and accountable.
© Copyright Gurmukh Singh OBE (UK)
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