TOPIC: THE MAXIM IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO DEFENCE, SHOULD NOT BE PART OF THE GHANA LEGAL SYSTEM SINCE MANY OF THE PEOPLE LIVING IN THE RURAL AREAS ARE ILLETREATES. IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO DEFENSE This maxim can also be translated as ignorance of the law is no excuse. When one is found guilty of a crime the accused tends to hold unto the saying that he did not know that what he did is unlawful thereby ignoring that fact that ignorance of the law is no excuse or defense.

This maxim can be seen in the case of Foli v the state(1968) GLR768.In this case, the appellants’ made a contention that they didn’t give the deceased, Abla Eworho, a befitting burial (proper burial) because the deceased violated a custom while she was alive to which she was fully aware; that she must be purified before her death occurred, and that in respect to the tradition or custom, of which she knew about, that her corpse would be burned. Due to this occurrence, the appellants were charged before the court for causing harm to the corpse they had cremated contrary to section53(1) of cap.

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80.The deceased’s head of family and the paramount chief of her locality, the first appellant’ further defence was that they were acting genuinely in accordance to the accepted custom by cremating the copse and had no idea that they were breaking or going against any law of the land. On their conviction, they appealed to the High court. In this case we can clearly see that the appellants didn’t know that what they had believed to be a custom or tradition to them was actually unlawful and this was because they are based in the rural area where the knowledge of what the law says is limited.We can also see the case of Nyameneba v the state (1965) GLR723 which saw the maxim ignorance of the fact favouring the appellants on this case. In this case, the appellant’s who were members of a religious sect of Princess Town in Western Region, who have been growing “herbs of life” for four years or more. They believe that the herbs were good for food, medicine and they used it for invocations, and at their worship.

When reports were made to the Police against them, the Police investigated them and found out that the herbs which they thought to be “herbs of life” was Indian hemp.The appellants were tried and convicted under section49 of the Pharmacy and drugs Act, 1961(Act64). At the trial, a Chemist confirmed the herbs to be Indian hemp but the prosecution failed to call the Chemist to be cross-examined on his report even after the court had so ordered. In this case, the plea of the appellant was a plea of ignorance of the fact which is under section29 (1) of Act 29 and it was so convincing that the Circuit Judge accepted it easily. Another instance was in the case of Republic v Kwadwo2 (1991) GLR1.

The respondent was the Omanhene of Bekwai under whom was Fahiakobo village. After a boundary dispute between two sub-chiefs, a piece of unclaimed land, i. e. Fahiakobo, was given to the respondent to rule directly. All revenue accruing from the Fahiakobo lands were given directly to the respondent.

The Lands Commission Secretariat however insisted that apart from money which fresh stranger farmers paid to chiefs on acquiring land, all other revenue was to be paid to the Lands Commission.The respondent however argued that his predecessors had always collected revenue from the Fahiakobo lands and that Fahiakobo was not even on the list of stool lands from which the government collected stool lands revenue. He was subsequently charged with stealing tributes from stranger farmers and was convicted by the circuit court.

On appeal to the High Court, the High Court, found, inter alia, that the trial judge convicted the accused without particularising the counts on which he was convicted and passed one sentence for all the several counts.He was consequently acquitted. The State appealed against the decision on the grounds that (1) the High Court judge misdirected himself as to the meaning of section 17(1) of the Administration of Lands Act, 1962 (Act 123) which vested the right to collect revenue from stool lands in the Minister responsible for Lands or his agent; (2) the claim of right of the accused was not bona fide because he had had prior warning from the Lands Commission; and (3) that the failure of the High Court judge to particularise the counts for conviction was a mere irregularity.In this case, the respondent used the claim of rights Under section 29 of the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29) a claim of right in good faith appeared to be a sound defence if the criminal act was done mistakenly but the mistake was an honest one.

Therefore the respondent fell under section 29 (2) of Act 29 and had to establish that under Act 29 he was exempted from punishment for stealing through ignorance.All these cases has helped to illustrate on the fact that those people who live in the rural areas in Ghana are more likely to fall victims of breaking the law because there is little or no awareness of what is stated in the constitution or by law due to ignorance. And by so doing, they end up spending all they have pursuing a case.In other to avoid such cases in the future the maxim ignorance of the law is no defence, should be swabbed out of the Ghana Legal System for the sake of those people living in the rural areas who are mostly illiterates. CASES: Nyameneba v the state (1965) GLR723 Foli v the state (1968) GLR768 Republic v Kwadwo2 (1991) GLR1

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