Gwawr Thomas and Jose Olivares-Chandler represented a mother and father, respectively, accused of child cruelty. The defendants did not dispute that they had taken their daughter to a traditional healer in Malawi, who had rubbed herbs into a series of incisions made on her back and chest. However, they pointed to their belief that they had acted in the child’s best interests, genuinely believing in witchcraft and the healing powers of traditional African medicine.
The prosecution sought to argue that culture was not relevant to the jury’s consideration of whether the parents had ‘wilfully’ caused harm to their daughter. It was argued on behalf of the defendants that, on the contrary, the cultural and religious context was a highly material factor when the jury came to assess the defendants’ state of mind and, consequently, whether they had deliberately caused unnecessary suffering to their daughter: indeed, it would be a breach of Article 9 ECHR if the jury was directed not to take into account the defendants’ genuine belief in witchcraft as part of their circumstances.
Both defendants were acquitted.