By: Chandrashekar Bhat
Muslim judges are more likely to give lenient decisions while fasting during Ramadan, a study has said, contrasting to previous research suggesting that judges who have not eaten give harsher rulings.
In what has been dubbed “the hungry judge effect”, a 2011 study found that judges in Israel were more likely to deny criminals parole before they ate lunch than afterwards.
Sultan Mehmood of Russia’s New Economic School, the lead author of the new study, said he was curious to see if the same effect occurred during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims typically go without food or water from dawn to sunset.
To find out, Mehmood and two other economic researchers sifted through a huge amount of criminal sentencing data, including roughly half a million cases and 10,000 judges, covering a 50-year period in India and Pakistan, two of the top three countries with the largest Muslim populations.
They were “surprised” to find the opposite of the hungry judge effect, Mehmood said.
There was a “sharp and statistically significant” rise in acquittals from Muslim judges during Ramadan – and there was no such increase for non-Muslims judges, according to the study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on Monday (13).
Mehmood said Muslim judges in both countries gave an average of around 40 per cent more acquittals during Ramadan than other periods of the year.
And the longer the judges went without food and water, the more lenient they became.
They were 10 per cent more likely to acquit with each additional hour of fasting, the study said.
The researchers also tried to quantify whether the more lenient decisions were better or worse than those made outside of Ramadan.
They found that the defendants on the receiving end of the lenient decisions were no more likely to commit another crime.
The rate of recidivism was generally slightly lower – including for defendants of violent crimes such as armed robbery and murder.