Research Press Release

Social sciences: Fasting during Ramadan associated with judicial leniency

Nature Human Behaviour

March 14, 2023

Fasting during Ramadan was associated with greater leniency in criminal justice decisions by judges in India and Pakistan, based on observational data from over 370,000 cases and 8,500 judges, finds a study published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Researchers are increasingly interested in understanding how different factors affect decision making, especially in the context of judicial decisions. Previous research has, for example, found that hunger is associated with judges making harsher decisions — a phenomenon also known as the ‘hungry judges effect’.

Sultan Mehmood and colleagues investigated if fasting during Ramadan had an effect on criminal sentencing decisions by judges in Pakistan and India using half a century of daily data. The dataset comprised more than 372,000 judicial cases in India and over 5,800 judicial cases in Pakistan, from over 7,600 judges in India and over 900 judges in Pakistan.

Making use of the random case assignment of judges and cases, and variation in fasting intensity, they examined the associations between the intensity of the fasting (how many hours the fast lasted in a day) and judicial decisions. The authors found that judges who were observing Ramadan were more likely to acquit when the intensity of Ramadan fasting increased, and that these acquittals were 5% less likely to be appealed and reversed in higher courts. Specifically, they found that with each additional hour of fasting (relative to the baseline) there was a 10% increase in the number of acquittals and a 3% reduction in appeals during Ramadan.


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