The African Law Service

The African Law Service brings diverse commentary on legal developments from across our African continent. 

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'Satan did it', claims rape accused

Mothers have been warned by a senior judge from Sierra Leone to be ‘doubly careful’ about the safety of their daughters. They should be ‘less trusting’ of others and should ‘prod on with love’ if they notice any change in their children, to find out the reason for the altered behaviour. This might help avert would-be rapists. Judge Reginald Fynn made these comments after finding a man guilty of raping a six-year-old who had been left in his care by the girl’s mother.

Read judgment

This is the first time I have read judgment in a rape trial heard by the High Court of Sierra Leone. There are several ways in which it is different from cases in other jurisdictions involving child rape or ‘defilement’ as it is sometimes called, and some of these differences are worth pointing out.

Chapter 19: Participation in crime


Our law recognises a variety of ways in which a person may involve him/herself in crime. One may, for example strangle someone to death with one's own hands, stone someone to death jointly with one or more others, keep a lookout while others rob and kill someone, hire someone to kill for you, incite others to commit murder, loan someone a gun with which to kill another, or assist someone to dispose of the dead body, amongst other things.

Chapter 16: Negligence


Negligence – also known as culpa – is a lesser form of fault relative to intention. It is easier for the prosecution to prove and it usually attracts a lesser sentence than a conviction for the same conduct where the form of fault is intention. So, a conviction for culpable homicide would ordinarily attract a lesser sentence than for murder.

Chapter 15: Intention


Intention in law has a technical meaning.  It includes more than what may ordinarily be understood by the term.  It extends beyond what a person may have as his/her purpose (dolus directus), and beyond even what is not one’s purpose but which is foreseen as inevitable (dolus indirectus). It extends to what is neither one’s purpose nor foreseen as inevitable, but to what is nevertheless foreseen as a (real) possibility - dolus eventualis.

Chapter 11: Capacity to Conduct oneself in accordance with an Appreciation of Wrongfulness and Voluntariness


The problem with the requirement of the capacity to conduct oneself in accordance with an appreciation of wrongfulness is to know what this is and what it is not. In particular, how our law does or may distinguish it from the requirement of voluntariness is exceedingly unclear.