Is fortune telling a criminal offence?

by The FindLaw Team

We here at FindLaw like to discover criminal matters that fall outside the realm of what most people would consider as an offence. So you can imagine our surprise when we ran into fortune telling as a summary offence in both the Northern Territory and South Australia. Yes, believe it or not, there are offences that exist out there relating to fortune telling, and similarly mystical occurrences. So join us as we take a look at the crimes involving the supernatural (insert ominous music).

 

Fortune telling as an offence

Firstly, we’re probably being a tad bit facetious by stating that fortune telling is a criminal offence. Fortune telling is only an offence when a person intends to deceive by telling fortunes as stated in s 57(1)(d) in the Summary Offences Act of the Northern Territory, and s 40 of the Summary Offences Act 1953 of South Australia.

Under s 57(1)(d) in the Northern Territory Act, a person commits an offence if they pretend to “…tell fortunes, or uses any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose upon a person”. Meanwhile, South Australia’s Act is just as succinct, stating that anyone acting as a spiritualist or medium with the intent to defraud is also guilty of an offence against s 40. 

Case law and fortune telling

Generally speaking, case law dealing with fortune telling offences is a rare occurrence, with most cases on the matter heard during the 1900s. However, the latest case we found on the subject was a 1996 Victorian case of R v Morgan (1986) 87 A Crim R 104 (Vic CA), where the accused conducted a fortune telling business that turned into a joint criminal enterprise.

So what exactly are the facts of the case? Well, the accused managed to convince numerous members of the public that their valuables and cash were haunted by evil spirits. Therefore, if the parties who owned the allegedly ‘evil’ valuables gave the offender their items, then the evil spirits would be expelled, and the cash and jewellery would be returned to the owners. Needless to say, there was no intention to return any valuables, and the offender made off with almost $400,000 worth in cash and jewellery.

Readers may be pleased to know that the accused was found guilty of theft, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

Can fortune tellers or astrologers testify in court?

No. Case law has ruled that the evidence given by astrologers or witch doctors will not be accepted if they are testifying in such a capacity. 

Sure it’d be fun to believe that our fortunes can be foretold, but case law has taken a more pragmatic approach because: “There can be no real telling of fortunes, for no one can foresee the future”, as Murray CJ pointed out in Smith v O’Sullivan [1921] SASR 349. Despite what some people may want to believe. 
 


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