New Zealand Law Society - Do we need Korans in law practices?

Do we need Korans in law practices?

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There's an unforgettable 1964 song about the wheels of change ringing out by Bob Dylan called "The times they are a changing" and in Ireland, that appears to be happening in the legal sector.

Lawyers were recently told by the head of the High Court they must have both a Bible and a Koran available for administering an oath or affidavit, during working hours.

The President, Justice Peter Kelly, was reported by the Irish newspaper The Sunday Independent as having made the ruling.

Over the past 20 years the Muslim population has been steadily growing in Ireland and the 2011 census showed nearly 50,000 living there, reflecting growing multiculturalism.

Justice Kelly's ruling means that in practice Irish solicitors must now always have a copy of the Bible or Koran in their possession in case they have to administer an oath and neither is available.

In Ireland the Oaths Act 1888 is the governing legislation, but if taking an oath is contrary to religious belief then a person must do the legal equivalent by making a solemn affirmation.

In New Zealand, a request for a Koran is uncommon according to the President of the New Zealand Society of Notaries, Stewart Germann.

"I do not think there is a need to have the Koran in a law office but some lawyers might have it or need it. If a Muslim person needed to swear an affidavit they could also affirm that the content of the document was true and correct," he says.

The appetite for Korans to be alongside Bibles in law practices could change though.

That's because in New Zealand the number of Muslim people is similar to Ireland, with 2013 Statistics New Zealand figures showing it's about 46,000, nearly 28% up on 2006.

The Wellington-based International Muslim Association has been around for quite a while, having been established in the late 1970s.

The President, Tahir Nawaz, says he is keen to supply copies of the Koran to law societies, notaries, courts or any other organisation for free. 

"Muslim people would feel more confident as immigrants knowing that a Koran is available for legal purposes.

"As Muslims we are obliged to follow the rules of the land, in which we reside. If a ruling has been made by the relevant authorities, then people with Muslim beliefs should be allowed the option to swear on the Koran," he says.

Mr Nawaz says to the best of his knowledge there are no Muslim notaries in New Zealand.

The Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 specifies that the Bible, New Testament, or Old Testament, be used when swearing an oath.

There is no mention of texts from other religions needing to be made available.

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