Defending the
Human Right
to a
Fair Trial

The Presumption of Innocence

orange1“Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law.” (ICCPR Art. 14(2))

A fundamental element of the right to a fair trial is that every person should be presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty following a fair trial. This is why the responsibility falls on the state to prove guilt and to discharge the presumption of innocence.

Due to the presumption of innocence, a person cannot be compelled to confess guilt or give evidence against him/herself. It is for the state to produce evidence of guilt, not for the defendant to prove innocence. In general, therefore, a suspect’s silence should not be used as evidence of guilt.

Because of the serious consequences of conviction, the state must prove guilt to a high standard. If doubt remains, the defendant must be given the benefit of the doubt and cleared because the state’s “burden of proof” has not been met.

Given the massive human impact of criminal proceedings on defendants, and the presumption of innocence, trials should take place without undue delay. It would be unfair to allow states numerous attempts to try to secure a conviction. If a case goes to trial and guilt is not proved, unless exceptional circumstances exist, the person should not be tried again. This requires the state to do the job of prosecution properly in the first instance.

The presumption of innocence is why, before conviction, any restrictions on a suspect’s basic rights, for example the right to liberty, should only be imposed where absolutely necessary. People awaiting trial have not been convicted of any offence and many will ultimately be cleared.