Nigerian Journal of Psychiatry

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Psychiatric, Psychological and “Witchcraft” Defences to Murder in the Nigerian Legal Context

A Ogunwale, AO Ogunlesi, O Majekodunmi


Background: Expert psychiatric testimony may be relevant in certain
instances of homicide especially murder. However, the exposure of most
psychiatric trainees may be inadequate in relation to the range of psychological defences available to an offender accused of homicide. Aim: To describe the psychiatric and psychological defences to murder available within the Nigerian legal context as well as review cases of witchcraft defence within the same jurisdiction. Method: Review of extant laws in relation to murder using the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act where applicable. Cited cases were presented from standard Law Reports. Results: The criminal defences in Nigerian courts which possess psychological and psychiatric modulation notably include the Insanity Plea, “Witchcraft” defence, and the defence of intoxication. Self-defence, Defence of Provocation, and “Doli Incapax” also demonstrate indirect psychological or psychiatric underpinnings. The “Witchcraft” defence appears to be the most tenuous and least justifiable of the pleas highlighted. Conclusion: A fairly wide range of psychological and psychiatric
defences are proffered in Nigerian courts in the defence of criminal acts, including murder. Some require expert testimony where insanity and related issues are raised. Thus, mental health experts practicing in Nigerian jurisdictions have both an educative role and a moral responsibility to provide evidence-based testimony during court

Key words: expert testimony, psychiatric, psychological, defence, insanity.

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