AuthorM.H. Ogilvie
Telling the truth, no matter the consequences, is an ideal propounded
by many religions, often backed by the threat of ultimate sanctions to
be determined by God who is presented as a rewarder of truth and an
avenger of falsehood. For Jews and Christi ans, the religious obligation
to tell the truth i s ultimately found in the Ninth Commandment,1 and
the Anglo-Canad ian common law has historically ref‌lected both that
injunction and the divine sanct ion that backs it in a number of rules
of evidence. Two of these have particular bearing on the law relating
to religious institutions. Originally, the common law required all ev i-
dence to be given under oath on the assumption th at no person would
tempt divine retribution by telli ng lies. Again, the common law after
the Reformation has hi storically been reluctant to grant an ab solute
privilege to protect communications made within the context of con-
fession to a clergyperson because of the overriding policy of doing jus-
tice in this world by punishing those who break the law of God, which
once constituted the core of the crimin al law.
While giving ev idence under oath and privileged communications
are the evidentiar y issues relating to rel igion most considered by the
courts, it should be noted that conceptually related to the issue of priv-
ileged communication is the recent statutory duty imposed on clergy
1 Exodus 20:16: “You shall not bear fal se witness again st your neighbour.” (N.R.S.V.).

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