WEST AFRICAN COURT OF APPEAL
(1954) 14 W.A.C.A. 442
BEFORE: FOSTER-SUTTON, P.
CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE: — Murder — Killing provoked by belief in witch-craft – Criminal Code, Section 25 — Whether belief not reasonable
CHILDREN AND WOMEN LAW: – Women and Witch-craft – Security of aged persons from extra-judicial killing – Murder – Woman aged 80 killed on the belief of having cast a spell on accused person’s wife leading to the wife’s death as a result of an infection caused by miscarriage – When trial court found that condition of deceased wife was bona fide attributed to witchcraft – How treated
HEALTHCARE AND LAW: – Primary healthcare – Access to proper pre-natal primary healthcare for women – Effect on crime and justice administration
ELDERS AND LAW: – Care and support of elderly person – Protection from assault and stigmatization
RELIGION AND LAW: – Belief in witch-craft – Implications for criminal behaviour and justice administration
The following judgment was delivered:
The applicant in this case has applied for leave to appeal from a conviction for murder.
The deceased was an elderly woman said to be about 80 years of age. The Crown’s case was that the applicant was labouring under an unreasonable belief that his wife had been bewitched by the deceased woman, Faratu, and another woman named Mario, and that the applicant killed Faratu by striking her several blows with a hoe-handle after she and Mario had denied having put juju on his wife.
The applicant, who gave evidence on oath at his trial, said, “I struck Faratu believing she was a witch and that striking her would destroy the spell; I did not mean to kill her; that if caught after suffering they would release it. I hit her on the head with this club.”
It seems clear that the applicant’s wife really died as a result of an infection caused by a miscarriage, but, as the learned trial judge said, her condition was bona fide attributed to witchcraft.
The trial judge said, rightly we think, that it was not possible to regard the belief of the applicant as “ reasonable “, and he cited, in support of that conclusion, the case of Rex v. Lgehwe Ifereonwe (1). In that case, which was one of killing as a result of a belief by the accused that he had been bewitched, the Court held that such a belief could not be regarded as “ reasonable “ within the meaning of section 25 of the Criminal Code (Cap. 42), and they quoted, with approval, a passage from the judgment appealed against, which reads as follows:
“I have no doubt that a belief in witchcraft such as the accused obviously has is shared by the ordinary members of his community. It would, however, in my opinion be a dangerous precedent to recognise that because of a superstition, which may lead to such a terrible result as is disclosed by the facts of this case, is generally prevalent among a community, it is therefore reasonable. The Courts must, I think, regard the holding of such beliefs as unreasonable and leave it to those who exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy to say whether the sentence prescribed by law should be mitigated.”
We wish to say that we entirely agree with those observations, and do not doubt that the circumstances of this case will be carefully considered by the proper authority.
The application is refused. Appeal dismissed.