Rex V. Francis Olu Coker (1947)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Criminal Law—Official Secrets Act, section 2 (2)—” Receipt “—OfficialSecrets Act, section 2 (1) (b).
Where a secret official document is left on the doorstep of a house and is picked up and retained by the occupier he does not ” receive ” the document in contravention of section 2 (2) of the Official Secrets Act, though he might be guilty of an offence against section 2 (1) (b) of that Act.
Appeal from the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The following joint judgment was delivered:
The appellant was charged and convicted under sub-section 2 of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, in that he received on the 4th day of December, 1946, at Lagos, in the Colony of Nigeria, a secret official document, to wit, a secret summary of events, the property of the Nigerian Government, knowing or having reasonable ground to believe that the document was communicated to him in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, 1911.
The grounds of appeal are :—
- Error in law, in that the learned trial Judge erred in law in convicting when there was no proof of a receiving in Law:
- That the decision is altogether unwarranted, unreasonable, and cannot be supported having regard to the weight of evidence:
- That the learned trial Judge erred in convicting the accused in the absence of any evidence that the accused knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that that document was communicated in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, and
- That the learned trial Judge erred in law in saying that the accused had failed to establish the defence that the communication was contrary to his desire in view of these facts:—
- That the accused was ignorant of the communication.
- That the accused merely found the document at his doorstep.
We are satisfied, according to the Record of Appeal, that neither the prosecution nor the accused knew where the document in question came from and that it was found by the appellant on the doorstep of his office from where he picked it up.
The question is, whether the act of picking up the document amounts in law to a receipt with a desire that the document be communicated to him within the provisions of section 2 (2) of the Official Secrets Act.
The learned trial Judge found that he received with such a desire because after the document got into his possession he made copies thereof for his own purpose.
With this contention we do not agree as in an analogous case of receiving stolen property knowing same to have been stolen, it is necessary that there should be a guilty mind at the time of the actual receipt; and no offence is committed if a guilty mind does not exist at the time of receipt but subsequently.
We are inclined to the view that it cannot be said that the appellant, who did not know of the existence of the document, or of the person who forwarded it to him, or of the contents of the document, received it with a desire that it should
be communicated to him, when he picked it from his doorstep. We are of the opinion, therefore, that the defence enabled by the section was established. What the appellant did, in our view, was to retain the document which was no doubt obtained in contravention of the Official Secrets Act of 1911, by a person or persons unknown, after he had read through the document and known its nature. He therefore could have been found guilty of an offence under section 2 (1) (b) of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, if he had been charged with that offence.
We differ from the learned acting Solicitor-General in his interpretation of section 2 (1) of the Act under enquiry that the section relates only to an offence in connection with a prohibited place. In the circumstances, we are unable to support the conviction of the appellant under section 2 (2) of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, and his conviction and sentence are hereby quashed, and it is ordered that a verdict of acquittal be entered and he be discharged. Costs paid into Court to be refunded.