PARIS (AFP): A study published Monday suggested Muslim judges tend to give more lenient decisions while fasting during Ramadan, contrary to previous research showing that judges who have not eaten tend to 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 afterward.
Sultan Mehmood of Russia’s New Economic School, the new study’s lead author, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that 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 vast amount of criminal sentencing data, including roughly half a million cases and 10,000 judges, covering 50 years in India and Pakistan, two of the top three countries with the largest Muslim populations.
Mehmood said they were “surprised” to find the opposite of the hungry judge effect.
According to the study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, there was a “sharp and statistically significant” rise in acquittals from Muslim judges during Ramadan – and there was no such increase for non-Muslim judges.
Mehmood said Muslim judges in both countries gave an average of around 40% 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.
The study said they were 10% more likely to acquit with each additional hour of fasting.
Idea of clemency
The researchers also tried to quantify whether the more lenient decisions were better or worse than those made outside Ramadan.
They found that the defendants on the receiving end of the lenient decisions were no more likely to commit another crime.
The recidivism rate was generally slightly lower than those for defendants of violent crimes such as armed robbery and murder.
The study said the lenient judgments were also less likely to be appealed.
“The probability that the initial verdict was overturned was also lower,” said Avner Seror, a study co-author and economist at France’s Aix-Marseille University.
Seror said Ramadan was “well-suited to statistical analysis” because it offers numerous avenues for comparison, from being held on different dates every year to the duration of fasting differing depending on when the sun rises and sets.
He suggested that the change in the judges’ decision-making could be connected to “the idea of clemency inherent in the Muslim ritual, a little like the spirit of Christmas among Christians.”
“But it goes further because it seems to help the judges make the right decision,” he added.
Previous research has suggested that intermittent fasting can improve mood, cognition, and memory, which could help judges make better decisions, the researchers speculated.
Mehmood said that when he talked to judges in Pakistan as part of the research, they all agreed that during Ramadan, “we are too lenient.”
“I’m not sure if they agree whether this is a good thing or not,” he added.