28 September, 2018

The presumption of innocence

I think it’s time we had a little chat about the presumption of innocence.

First and foremost: I’m all for it. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

A central pillar of justice in the civilised world (and you can take that any way you like) is that an accused person is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Essentially, this means that you can’t be thrown in prison (or worse) just because someone says you did something. Of course, this is exactly what happened to untold thousands if not millions of people, but we don’t want to make the white men feel TOO uncomfortable, so we’ll stick to the present day for now.

The presumption of innocence does NOT mean ignoring all accusations and refusing to hear from the accusers.

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s imagine your car has been stolen, and you saw who did it. You report it to the police.

You: “My car has been stolen. I know who did it. I saw him. He is…”
Officer: “WHOA! Hold on a moment sir! This man has a right to the presumption of innocence! Do you expect us to believe he stole your car just because you come in here and say so? You haven’t presented any evidence!”
You: “But I know his name! I’ve seen him around before. He grabbed my keys when they fell out of my pocket. I have pictures here on my ’phone and that’s him over there!”
Suspect: “I didn’t do it.”
Officer: “It’s your word against his, sir. And you’ve admitted you gave him the keys.”
You: “I didn’t GIVE him the keys, he…”
Officer: “I am placing you under arrest for defaming this good man. Anything you say may be used against you.”

Yes, that does sound ridiculous, but it is essentially the premise of those who are defending Brett Kavanaugh. Of course he has the right to the presumption of innocence and I am making no comment on his innocence or otherwise. What I am saying is that the presumption of innocence does not say allegations should not be investigated. Allowing for the possibility he may be innocent of all charges does not mean he should just be appointed to one of the most powerful positions in the United States without due diligence.

My own job requires me to have a police check every year and a deeper check for working with children every five years. If I have a criminal record, the fact that I am free to work should prove I have paid any debt to society I may have, so why should I be treated to this extra scrutiny? The answers should be obvious. There are positions of responsibility where certain aspects of your past, however much you may have grown and changed since then, will forever preclude you from holding such a position. It may seem unfair, but at least you’ve never been hanged from a tree just because… oops, sorry. I said I wouldn’t go there, didn’t I?

The doctrine of innocent until proven guilty does not mean no evidence of guilt should be sought. Those who claim the presumption of innocence from the moment an accusation is made, are possibly doing it for want of a better defence. As for Mr Kavanaugh, I hope that justice is done, whatever that may involve.