The Presumption of Innocence

The Presumption of Innocence

In light of the recent matter before the ACT courts, involving Brittany Higgins as the complainant, together with recent news articles discussing unresolved criminal matters, it is important to not judge a person or a matter until the courts have decided the case.

The presumption of innocence is the cornerstone of our criminal justice.  We have all heard the presumption of innocence expressed as, “innocent until proven guilty”.  More properly, the expression ought to be “innocent unless found guilty”.

The expression “innocent until proven guilty” has a connotation of inevitability about it.  That inference of inevitability itself erodes the presumption of innocence and is wrong.

With the explosion of social media and instant access to local, national and international news, the community is easily exposed to a wealth of information and material which even five years ago was not available.  One of the biggest issues encountered in the face of such ease of access is that there is a saturation of stories, even before the Police have concluded their investigations, for example.  

The result is that people have consumed only those facts which are revealed at a particular time and the danger is then that the community generally starts to work on that information to make decisions. The ACT Supreme Court today outlined the dangers posed by the publication of information before matters are concluded. This is a significant danger to the presumption of innocence.

In theory, the news media should not be censored and should not be constrained. People must keep in the forefront of their minds the fact that unless and until they know all of the facts and evidence in relation to a particular matter, they cannot possibly form a proper opinion on a reported criminal matter.  The presumption of innocence must be protected closely.

The presumption of innocence operates to protect all of us. It may sound trivial however if you or a loved one were to ever be falsely accused of an offence, the presumption of innocence would take on far more significance.

The same is true for completed matters that are reported by the media. Often, information is published which stirs public commentary – but again it is done so in the absence of all the facts. Courts are then often criticised for decisions/results when in fact the courts are the only forum that are presented ALL the facts.