It’s not just the name of a movie, it is one of the most important tenets of criminal law. Recently in the District Court, Counsel for the accused in his closing address to the jury started with words to the effect of:
“If I had asked you, before any evidence had been heard, whether the accused committed the offence, most of you would have said ‘I don’t know’. As reasonable as this response sounds, it is wrong. The accused is entitled to be presumed to be innocent. The starting point is ‘No, he’s not guilty.”
Unless and until the evidence satisfies the jury “beyond reasonable doubt” that the accused person is guilty of the offence or offences as charged he or she is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
It can be easy to forget this maxim that has origins based in the 13th century. So often we are led by media reports, and assumptions made around the water cooler or coffee shop, that we could question if it still exists.
In an age where the maxim appears to be under threat with ill-informed political hopefuls preferring to hang the accused rather than be inconvenienced by a trial, it was refreshing to hear at our District Court, that this important tenet of criminal law still exists.
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This is intended for general information and does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal advice should be sought.