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The Presumption of Innocence

A fundamental principle behind the right to a fair trial is that every person should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Many people who are accused of crimes will ultimately be found innocent. This is why any restriction on an accused person’s rights, such as holding them in pre-trial detention, should only take place where absolutely necessary.

It is the responsibility of the state to prove that someone is guilty not for the suspected person to prove their innocence. People should not be coerced into confessing to a crime or to give evidence against themselves. In general, if someone exercises their right to silence, it should not be used as evidence of guilt or as a reason to place them in pre-trial detention.

Being convicted of a crime has serious, sometimes devastating, consequences. Therefore, States must prove guilt to a high standard. If there is ‘reasonable doubt’, an accused person must be given the benefit of the doubt and cleared because the state’s ‘burden of proof’ has not been met.

Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law.

Article 14(2)

Justice is best served if trials take place without undue delay. This helps protect the presumption of innocence and minimise the human impact of criminal proceedings on victims, witnesses and people who are accused of crimes.

States should not treat people as if they are guilty before they have been convicted by a court of law. They should not make public statements of guilt during an investigation, use measures of restraint that make someone appear dangerous or walk arrested people through public places so they can be photographed by the media – also known as perp walks.

States should not make numerous attempts to try to secure a conviction. If a case goes to trial and guilt is not proved, the person should not be tried again unless there are exceptional circumstances. This requires the state to do the job of prosecution properly in the first instance.

Read more about our work on this issue in the Resource Hub.

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