Thursday, August 22, 2013

Northern Territory to Repeal Witchcraft Act

The law prohibiting witchcraft in England was famously repealed in 1951, after which Gerald Gardner began promoting Wicca publicly. It seems that Australia's Northern Territory has yet to catch up, though this will soon be changing. The law in question is the same witchcraft act of 1735, which at the time was instituted across all the territories of the British Empire. Northern Territory Attorney-General John Elferink has announced that the territorial government is finally planning a repeal of this outdated legislation.

"It falls outside the gamut of modern sentencing," he said. "It's just a quirk that it is still operational law." Mr Elferink said the Witchcraft Act predated European settlement in Australia but was passed on along with many ancient British laws. It has already been repealed in England and many other jurisdictions. "It appears that this one has slipped through the cracks (in the Territory)," he said.

Mr Elferink said the Act had initially been set up to protect consumers and had replaced the 1563 version that allowed for witches to be burnt at the stake. But he "did not anticipate" any prosecutions in the future. Repealing the law would give Darwin's spiritual community some peace of mind. "I believe we have very fine and law-abiding tarot readers who would be fairly horrified to find out they've committed an offence that would see them pilloried on market day," he said.

All I can say is good riddance to a law that could be used to prosecute members of minority religions such as Wicca. I don't know if there are any other British territories in which the witchcraft act is still in force, but if there are I suggest they get with the program as well. Laws are funny things - it's always easy to pass more of them, but repealing them is another story, even if they have been on the books for hundreds of years and no longer bear any relation to the current state of society. I've often thought that all legislation should be subject in some way to periodic review to prevent this sort of thing from happening, though with politics being what it is, there are a lot of ways such a process could be implemented that would cause more problems than it solved.

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Hypnovatos said...

something like this could be fun to try and get your friends arrested... you know.. for fun!

Scott Stenwick said...

Exactly. Or your enemies. Or somebody whose religion you just don't happen to approve of, like, say, if you follow one of the univalent religions that teaches all divergent beliefs are evil.

So long as a law is on the books there's always a danger that it could be misused. So when a law clearly provides no benefit to society or is unenforceable, I'm of the opinion that it should always be repealed or struck down.