Innocent Until Proven Guilty Report


The presumption of innocence has been described as a ‘golden thread’ running through criminal law. It is a norm of customary international law and is protected by numerous international treaties and in national legal systems. The presumption of innocence is crucial to ensuring a fair trial in individual cases, to protecting the integrity of the justice system, and to respecting the human dignity of people who are accused of committing crimes.

In practice, violations of this important legal principle are common. Public appetite for sensation, real-crime, real-time stories places enormous pressure on public authorities and the media to violate the presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence also has to be balanced against other aspects of the right to a fair trial (such as the principle of open justice) and other human rights (such as free speech).

This report seeks to identify key threats (and possible solutions) to violations of the presumption of innocence resulting from statements made by public authorities about ongoing proceedings; the content and tone of press coverage; and the use of restraints in courtrooms or in public settings. It draws on a wealth of data: (a) a global survey of law and practice on the presentation of suspects; (b) a sociological study on the impact of images of arrest and different measures of restraint on public perceptions of guilt; (c) content analysis of crime-related news stories in newspapers, online press and broadcast television news programmes in seven countries to assess compliance with the presumption of innocence; and (d) comparative research on the presentation of suspects before the courts in five countries.