Glossary of criminal offence terms

This page lists the general meanings of some criminal offence terms used in Africa.

 

Defilement is a term used in some African countries and refers to a sexual act, usually with a girl, termed the victim, under a defined age. For example, the Penal Code Act of the laws of Uganda provides that any person who unlawfully has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of eighteen years commits an offence and is in Uganda liable to a penalty of death. The offence is committed irrespective of the age of the offender or of the victim’s consent to the sexual encounter. In other countries the offence is called statutory rape. Defilement can also be committed by having sex with a woman of reduced mental capacity.

 

Misprision of treason is committed by someone who knows a treason is being or is about to be committed but does not report it to a proper authority. It is unusual in that it is a criminal offence which may be committed through inaction. It is an offence found in many common law jurisdictions around Africa, having been inherited from English law. In, for example Malawi, the offence is called concealment of treason.

 

Perjury involves swearing to the truth of a statement known to be false, especially before a court of law.

 

Rogue and vagabond offences across Africa have their roots in England's Vagrancy Act of 1824. The offence criminalises various types of "nuisance" behaviour and have been criticised for criminalising poverty and homelessness. For example, the Malawi Penal Code provides that the following people are deemed to be a rogue and a vagabond:

  • any person collecting donations under false pretences
  • every "suspected or reputed thief who has no visible means of assistance and cannot give a good account of himself"
  • any person found on a road or at a public place "at such time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for an illegal or disorderly purpose"
  • any person who makes appeals for subscriptions without the consent of the District Commissioner
  • any person who has collected subscriptions who fails to produce or publish the correct amounts collected.

 

Sedition is action against the authority of the state and may include conduct or speech tending to rebellion or to a breach of public order.

 

Subornation of perjury is the crime of persuading a person to commit perjury and includes the situation in which an attorney causes or allows another party to lie.

 

Touting has its origins in English law where the offence now primarily involves the soliciting of custom for unlicensed taxis. In some countries of Africa the offence is primarily a nuisance offence and appears only to require the soliciting or pestering of potential taxi customers e.g. "minibus touts" i.e. the licensed nature of the vehicle does not appear to be required for the crime.

 

Treason is committed by someone who prepares, tries or conspires to overthrow a lawfully constituted government by force or other unlawful means.

 

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