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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

October 24th, 1999.

"The Presumption Of Innocence (I)."

Among the definitions of evidence which the OED lists, is found: "Information, whether in the form of personal testimony, the language of documents, or the production of material objects, that is given in a legal investigation, to establish the fact or point in question." It is the job of a court of law to weigh and consider the evidence (and, as much, the evidence giver); and, come to a conclusion as to whether the person before it is to be convicted of the crime with which he or she is charged. The court is to make no assumptions. It is to consider only that evidence which has been received by it and entered on its records. It does, however, start with a presumption. It assumes, without any evidence at all: that the person before the court is innocence of the crime with which he or she is charged. It will find against the person so charged -- only upon being convinced of the person's guilt.

The presumption of innocence, as we lawyers know it to be, is a presumption of law, viz., an assumption of the truth of anything (in this case a person's innocence) until proven otherwise. "It is," as Blackstone had written in 1765, "Better that ten guilty escape than that one innocent suffer." The presumption of innocence is one of the cornerstones of English justice. It is only when a court is convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person it has before it is guilty of the crime will it then be in a position to mete out punishment in its full and proper form. It hasn't always been this way; there was what we now know as the Halifax law, or Lydford law, being: the summary procedure of certain local tribunals which had or assumed the power of inflicting a sentence of death on thieves; the rule proverbially ascribed to them was "Hang first, Try afterwards."

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Peter Landry

October, 1999 (2019)