Muslim judges who fast during Ramadan are ‘significantly’ more lenient, according to new study

Key points
  • The researchers report a “drastic and statistically significant” rise in acquittals for Muslim judges who fast during Ramadan.
  • They reviewed the decisions of 10,000 judges over 50 years in India and Pakistan.
  • It was believed that during Ramadan the concept of pardon prevailed for the judges.
A found that Muslim judges in India and Pakistan who fast during Ramadan were more likely to give lenient rulings.
Ramadan is the holy month when Muslims usually go without food or water from dawn to dusk.
The researchers analyzed criminal sentencing data, including approximately half a million cases and 10,000 judgments spanning a 50-year period in India and Pakistan, two of the three countries with the largest Muslim populations.
The data showed a “drastic and statistically significant” increase in acquittals against Muslim judges during Ramadan and no difference for non-Muslim judges, they said.

A Russian New Economic School study found that judges in both countries deliver 40% more acquittals on average during Ramadan compared to other times of the year.

Mercy Month

The researchers also tried to quantify whether softer decisions were better or worse than decisions made outside of Ramadan.
They found that defendants who received lenient decisions were less likely to commit another crime.
The recidivism rate was slightly lower overall, including among those accused of violent crimes such as armed robbery and murder.

Light sentences are also less likely to be appealed, the study says.

“The chance that the original sentence was overturned was also lower,” said Avner Seror, co-author of the study and an economist at Aix-Marseille University in France.
Seror said Ramadan is “good for statistical analysis” because it offers many opportunities for comparison, from fasting on different dates each year to fasting times that differ depending on when the sun rises and sets.
He suggested that the change in the decision of the judges could be due to “the idea of ​​mercy inherent in the Muslim ritual, which bears little resemblance to the spirit of Christmas among Christians.”

“But it goes even further because it seems like it helps the judges make the right decision,” he added.

Exposing the “hungry judge effect”
A found that judges in Israel were more likely to deny parole to offenders before they had dinner than after.
This new study found the opposite: Judges became more lenient the longer they went without food or water.
The study showed that with each additional hour of fasting, they were 10% more likely to justify themselves.

Lead researcher Sultan Mehmood said he was “surprised” to see the opposite result.