Lawyer asks Supreme Court to decriminalise ‘attempted suicide’

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Mr Christian Lebrechet Malm-Hesse (middle) with members of his legal team
Mr Christian Lebrechet Malm-Hesse (middle) with members of his legal team

A private legal practitioner has filed a suit at the Supreme Court urging the court to decriminalise “attempt to commit suicide”.

In a suit invoking the jurisdiction of the court, Mr Christian Lebrechet Malm-Hesse argues that Section 57 (2) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), which makes attempted suicide a criminal offence is unconstitutional.

It is his case that any person who attempts suicide is suffering from a mental disability and should be given psychological treatment and not be incarcerated.

Consequently, he contends that a mentally challenged person cannot have an intent (mens rea) to commit a crime.

In view of that, he argues that the offence of “attempt to commit suicide” cannot be classified as a crime, since the mental element required to make it a crime does not exist.

“A person who has a malfunctioning mind does not have the mind to form a mens rea to commit a crime,” the plaintiff avers.

Also, he argues that it is unconstitutional for a suicidal person to be punished for putting such a mental disability into action.

Punishing a person who attempts to commit suicide, he argues, means the person is being discriminated against on the basis of his disability.

Section 57 (2) of  Act 29 makes “attempt to commit suicide” a misdemeanour which carries a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment.

Mr Malm-Hesse is therefore urging the highest court of the land to declare as unconstitutional Section 57 (2) Act 29

According to him, Section 57 (2) of Act 29 violates Article 15 of the 1992 Constitution (respect for human dignity), Article 17 (freedom from discrimination), and Article 29 (rights of disabled persons). 

He is also seeking a declaration that there is no mens rea (mental element) with regard to Section 57 (2) and therefore it sins against Act 29.

Suicide as mental disorder

In his statement of case, Mr Malm-Hesse lists a plethora of medical authorities and literature, which he says creates  a strong link between suicide and mental disorder.

He argues that the conditions that lead to suicide are not different from mental disorder.

Some of the conditions, he argues include the loss of a loved one, bullying or abuse, the end of a relationship, divorce , unemployment, retirement, life-changing illness, financial problems and surviving a traumatic event.

“It is the Plaintiff’s case that from the copious conditions exemplified from the numerous medical experts, a person seeking to commit suicide albeit attempt is suffering the ill-functionality of the mind,” he argues.

Also, the plaintiff argues that suicide is a global crisis which ought not to be tackled in such a manner that does not impose punishment on people who attempt to do it.

“It is a global problem and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has with regard to attempted suicide expressed the view that punishing with imprisonment a behaviour consequent to either a mental disorder or a social difficulty gives a completely wrong message to the population, and that the WHO encourages efforts for the prevention of suicide,” he said.


Mr Malm-Hesse further argues that it is insensitive and counter-productive to imprison someone who has survived a horrific experience such as attempted suicide.

“A person who is severely suicidal or sick, or someone who has lost all hope of surviving, tries to end his life and his effort is futile, the judicial prosecution will guarantee that he is prosecuted for failure per section 18 (1) of Act 29 and section 296 (4) of Act 30.

This person being militated by the pain of his condition cannot be said to be in his or her right state of being to satisfy intention,” the plaintiff contends.

Writer’s email: emma.hawkson