Sorcery Cases in Papua New Guineas Village Courts: Legal Innovation Part IV


Author/s (editor/s):

Melissa Demian

Publication year:


Publication type:

In Brief

This In Brief argues that the repeal of Papua New Guinea's Sorcery Act 1971 has been functionally irrelevant for village courts, which face the issue of sorcery with far more frequency than higher courts ever did. The Sorcery Act, a piece of late colonial-era legislation that was a half-hearted attempt to reflect the social milieu of Papua New Guinea, criminalised the use of sorcery for 'evil purposes'. It was repealed in 2013 in the wake of several high-profile and gruesome killings related to sorcery accusations, because of a widespread perception that the Act could make available a defence in cases involving violence toward suspected sorcerers. Dissatisfaction with the Act had been building for some time, even though a sorcery-related defence has almost never succeeded in court (Demian 2011; Forsyth 2015). In addition to repealing the Act, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill introduced draconian penal measures such as the extension of the death penalty to sorcery-related murders (BBC News 2013).

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