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Closed petition Legally pardon those convicted in Great Britain for offences of witchcraft

The Witchcraft Act 1735 repealed legislation creating offences for witchcraft, recognising that the belief that people could use demonic magic to harm and murder was not a reality. Even though this meant the people convicted and executed under former Acts had been innocent, they were never pardoned.

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Witch persecution is still happening. The UN passed a resolution in 2021 calling on countries to deal with the problem. In 2022, the First Minister of Scotland issued an apology to those convicted under the Scottish Witchcraft Act — the result of a petition to the Scottish Parliament (PE1855.) The Scottish Government failed to issue a pardon. Our silence and failure to pardon our own sends the wrong message that the British people condone the witch executions in Africa, Papua New Guinea and India.

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Government responded

This response was given on 6 March 2024

The Government acknowledges the historic injustices of people accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries. However, there are no plans to legislate to pardon those who were convicted.

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In 1542 Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act due to the belief of many at that time that witchcraft was an explanation for sudden and unexpected ill-fortune, such as the death of a child, bad harvests, or the death of cattle. This legislation defined witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. It was repealed five years later, but restored by a new Act in 1562, with a further law passed in 1604 during the reign of James I. These later Acts transferred the trial of 'witches' from the Church to the courts.

Those accused of witchcraft were typically poor elderly women with many convicted and subsequently executed.

Parliament later repealed laws against witchcraft through the Witchcraft Act of 1735 recognising that witchcraft was an impossible crime. They were replaced in legislation by penalties for the pretence of witchcraft.

The Government acknowledges the historic miscarriages of justice of people wrongly accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries. However, there are no current plans to legislate to pardon those who were convicted of these crimes during this period.

Ministry of Justice