Can an error in stating the accurate time of commission of offence vitiate a charge?

Igba v. State [2018] 6 NWLR (Pt. 1614) 44 at 64-65, paras. H-B, per Peter-Odili, JSC:

“…It has to be stated that before such an error relating to time of the commission of the offence can lead to the vitiation of the charge, it has to be proved that a miscarriage of justice had been occasioned on account of that mistake. Also, that such an error had created a doubt in the prosecution’s case which the court cannot ignore but resolve it in favour of the accused as the prosecution cannot be said to have proved its case beyond reasonable doubt as stipulated by law…”

Notes:

The facts of the above case are, according to Augie, JSC, “heart-rending and utterly depressing”. Somewhere in Benue State, the deceased, Kyernum Kervo, was accused of stealing goat meat at a funeral ceremony whereupon he was apprehended and handed over to the Appellant, a member of vigilante, and the first accused person (Michael Ankpegher) by the elders to take to the Police Station at Gungul. The duo tied the deceased and took him away. However, instead of taking the deceased to the Police Station, they tied a piece of meat wrapped with leaves to the neck of the deceased, tied his legs and hands and took him to the riverside where they spread palm leaves over him and set him ablaze.

The Appellant and the first accused person were charged to Court for the offences of conspiracy to cause death and culpable homicide punishable with death. They were convicted and sentenced to death, having been found guilty of the offences as charged. The Appellant’s appeal up to the Supreme Court was dismissed. One of the issues he contended was that the death of the deceased occurred on 19th May, 2002 but not 19th October, 2002 as stated in the charge; and that as a result, the prosecution had failed to prove its case. The Appellant relied on Section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code which requires that the time and place of an offence must be stated in a charge. The Supreme Court discountenanced the argument and upheld the finding by the trial Court that the Appellant and the first accused person were not misled by the date stated on the charge. Thus, no miscarriage of justice can be said to have occurred. On the whole, the apex Court held that the prosecution proved its case.

It is important to use this opportunity to address the high-handedness and overzealous conduct of some members of vigilante in various communities set up to assist in tackling security issues. They are hereby called upon to be law-abiding and ensure that they focus on their core mandate and resist the temptation of taking laws into their hands. It is also suggested that the elders and leaders of these communities should partner with the government in place to ensure that some level of training and education is administered to these vigilante members from time to time. This is particularly important because some of them are not properly and formally educated.



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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