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Dead body as property

I am threatened to be sued following a motor accident that occurred few years back in which my driver caused a fatal accident by knocking a mini bus carrying funeral-goers from Dar to Mbinga, Songea Region, which got burnt completely causing severe bodily injuries to mourners and loss of properties. According to the demand notice to sue issued against me, the alleged lost and damaged properties include among others, the coffin which contained the remains of the body of the complainant’s father.The intended suitor now claims for payment of millions for the alleged sustained bodily injuries, value of the coffin and dead body of his late father. Is a dead body a property with any monetary value? FD, Moshi

We do not have facts about how the accident happened and hence answer this question generally. The legal rights over a dead person’s body, which are sometimes termed as ‘pseudo property rights’ do generally vary with the civilization of particular countries and peoples.

While in many countries the duty to bury is imposed by law, in Tanzania only rights to bury exist and are protected only by Courts. We are unaware of any statute to that effect.

In Tanzania, only siblings, the surviving spouse, parents or children have rights to possession, custody and burial of the dead body.

The facts you have given us show that the coffin and the remains of body contained therein were completely destroyed because of a fire which burnt the mini bus causing your intended suitor to lose his right to bury the body of his dead father. We are unsure whether it was your driver (and you) who caused such damage. In any case, the person sending you the demand notice has a right to sue you both, but must establish in Court the kind of damages he suffered.

Practice of witchcraft

I have rented a house in Kibiti where we reside with one woman aged about 70 years. Recently there have been rumors that the old woman is practicing witchcraft. After a certain misunderstanding, she also threatened to bewitch two of my neighbors.Can this woman be relocated? DE, Kibiti

In Tanzania the key legislation that regulates witchcraft is the Witchcraft Act, Cap 18 R.E 2002. The legislation defines witchcraft to include sorcery, enchantment, bewitching, the use of instrument of witchcraft, the purported exercise of any occult power and the purported possession of any occult knowledge.

The law makes it a criminal offence to do any of the below actions: claim to have the power of witchcraft; make, use, possess or claim to possess any instruments of witchcraft; supply instruments of witchcraft to others; advice others on the use of witchcraft; threaten to use witchcraft against people or property; employ someone to use witchcraft; and accuse someone of using witchcraft, or of being a witch or wizard (except when reporting to official bodies such as the police).

Since the old woman threatens to use witchcraft against your neighbors which is an offence under section 3(v) of the Act, you can advise your neighbors to go to the police. It is worth noting that the police officers cannot relocate the old woman rather may prefer criminal charges against her. In addition, section 8 of the Act empowers the District Commissioner (DC) to order a person suspected of practicing witchcraft to reside in any specified locality within a district until such order is varied or revoked. However, prior to issuing such an above order, the law requires the DC to conduct due inquiry and when the DC is satisfied that the suspect is likely to cause fear, annoyance or injury to mind, person or property, she/he is then mandated to issue such an order.

Decree against a dead person

In 2014 I was appointed personal legal representative of the estate of our father who died three years before I was appointed administrator. Recently, I have shockingly been served with a Court decree for payment of money which apparently according to the dates thereof was passed after demise of the deceased but before I was appointed administrator of his estate. Upon following up the matter with the Court, I am informed that the suit, from which the decree arises, proceeded in the absence of the deceased as the records of the Court show that the deceased refused to receive the Court summons. I am uncertain on what to do as I have very limited legal knowledge. This issue has arisen at the time I have completely administered and distributed all assets of the estate of the deceased to the heirs. Please advise what to do. DF, Dar

In as much as we advise you to look for legal practitioners for legal assistance and advice, based on the facts you given us, you need not worry. If you can successfully show that the decree in question has come to your knowledge at the moment you have fully distributed all assets pertaining to the estate of the deceased, legally, you have been discharged from the office of the administrator and therefore service of the decree of the Court to you is misplaced.

The law obligates the administrator of an estate to pay only debts he knows of. Indeed, from the moment of your discharge, the estate of the deceased ceased to exist.

The decree in issue has been overtaken by an event. Furthermore, the decree in question having been passed after the demise of the deceased and before you were appointed as an administrator also means that the decree is inexecutable. In the circumstances, a decree passed against a dead person is a nullity.

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