Sorcery and the Criminal Law in Vanuatu

2006 Lawasia 1

26 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2013

See all articles by Miranda Forsyth

Miranda Forsyth

School of Regulation & Global Governance (RegNet)

Date Written: 2006


This paper examines the problems of incorporating norms of customary law into the substantive criminal laws of a Melanesian state system. It focuses on the particular crime of sorcery in Vanuatu. It explores the historical and sociological contexts to the belief in sorcery in society today, and also how behavior generated by the belief (allegations of sorcery and sorcerer-related attacks) is dealt with by the non-state customary legal system. It then investigates how the state has treated the issue of sorcery, discussing both legislative initiatives and also a number of cases brought before the courts in recent years. The paper argues that merely transplanting substantive norms from the customary system into the state system without consideration of the procedural and institutional framework those norms were developed within, or the ramifications the law may have on other aspects of the legal system, is doomed to failure. Finally, it highlights a number of issues that must be considered in order to successfully initiate a more fruitful process of legal pluralism.

Keywords: sorcery, witchcraft, legal pluralism, customary law

Suggested Citation

Forsyth, Miranda, Sorcery and the Criminal Law in Vanuatu (2006). 2006 Lawasia 1. Available at SSRN: or

Miranda Forsyth (Contact Author)

School of Regulation & Global Governance (RegNet) ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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