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The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Decisions

You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Decisions >> Thabo Meli and others v The Queen (Basutoland) [1954] UKPC 2 (13 January 1954)
Cite as: [1954] WLR 228, [1954] 1 WLR 228, [1954] 1 All ER 373, [1954] UKPC 2

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Thabo Meli and others (Appeal No. 28 of 1953) v The Queen (Basutoland) [1954] UKPC 2 (13 January 1954)

PDF files of the original documents:


Case for the Appellants
Case for the Respondent
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Date: 13 January 1954

- v -



    Jan. 13.

    The judgment of their Lordships was delivered by LORD REID.

    The four appellants in this case were convicted of murder after a trial before Harragin J. in the High Court of Basutoland, in March, 1953. The appeal which has been heard by this Board dealt with two matters: first, that the conclusions of the judge on questions of fact were not warranted; and, second, that, by reason of a matter which can be dealt with later, on a point of law the accused are entitled to have the verdict quashed.

    On the first matter, there really is no ground for criticizing the judge's treatment of the facts. It is established by evidence, which was believed and which is apparently credible, that there was a preconceived plot on the part of the four accused to bring the deceased man to a hut and there to kill him; and then to fake an accident, so that the accused should escape the penalty for their act. The deceased man was brought to the hut. He was there treated to beer and was at least partially intoxicated; and he was then struck over the head in accordance with the plan of the accused.

    There is at least doubt whether the weapon which was produced as being like the weapon which was used would have produced the injuries which were found, but it may be that this weapon is not exactly similar to the one which was used, or it may be that the blow was a glancing blow and produced less severe injuries than those which one might expect; but, in any event, the man was unconscious after receiving the blow.

    There is no evidence that the accused then believed that he was dead, but their Lordships are prepared to assume that they did; and it is only on that assumption that any statable case can be made for this appeal. The accused took out the body, rolled it over a low krantz or cliff, and dressed up the scene to make it look like an accident. Obviously they believed at that time that the man was dead, but it appears from the medical evidence that the injuries which he received in the hut were not sufficient to cause the death and that the final cause of his death was exposure where he was left at the foot of the krantz.

    The point of law which was raised in this case can be simply stated. It is said that two acts were necessary and were separable: first, the attack in the hut; and, secondly, the placing of the body outside afterwards. It is said that, while the first act was accompanied by mens rea, it was not the cause of death; but that the second act, while it was the cause of death, was not accompanied by mens rea; and on that ground it is said that the accused are not guilty of any crime except perhaps culpable homicide.

    It appears to their Lordships impossible to divide up what was really one transaction in this way. There is no doubt that the accused set out to do all these acts in order to achieve their plan and as parts of their plan; and it is much too refined a ground of judgment to say that, because they were under a misapprehension at one stage and thought that their guilty purpose and been achieved before in fact it was achieved, therefore they are to escape the penalties of the law. Their Lordships do not think that this is a matter which is susceptible of elaboration. There appears to be no case either in South Africa or England, or for that matter elsewhere, which resembles the present. Their Lordships can find no difference relevant to the present case between the law of South Africa and the law of England, and they are of opinion that by both laws there could be no separation such as that for which the accused contend, so as to reduce the crime from murder to a lesser crime, merely because the accused were under some misapprehension for a time during the completion of their criminal plot.

    Their Lordships must, therefore, humbly advise Her Majesty that this appeal should be dismissed.

The permission for BAILII to publish the text of this judgment
was granted by Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales and
the electronic version of the text was privided by Justis Publishing Ltd.
Their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.

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