AUTHORS- Rahul Verma, Law Centre- 1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi & Harshita Kachhawaha, Indore Institute of Law.
“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/her. 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.[i]
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.
2. Concept of ‘presumption of innocence’
Our laws are based on the Common Law and equality of law. One of the important and well-known principles is that a person is believed to be innocent till the guilt is proved against him. This principle is called the Presumption of Innocence. In other words, accused is entitled to take advantage of reasonable doubt in respect of his crime. [ii]
This principle is being seen in countries where executorial system is prevalent. In several European countries the Inquisitorial principle or the principle based on inquiry is not being followed. But contrary to Indian Law in several countries accused is considered to be an offender till he is proved to be innocent. Since India is having executorial system, the law has accepted both these principles.
Under these provisions, Magistrate remains neutral and helps accused instead of the complainant. This means, even if accused is not aware of his legal rights, he gets necessary help from the court and the court ensures that accused are not denied their rights. Complainant in criminal cases is represented by the State and that helps in the process of finding out the truth. However, it is not the duty of the complainant to ensure that accused is convicted by any means. Their only duty is to divulge the true facts without bias before the Court.
3. Notable exceptions in this presumption
(1) In many laws mens rea or criminal minded intent is not there. While performing certain public welfare activities, a presumption arise that accused is guilty. Here accused has to prove that he was not guilty.[iii]
(2) In certain other crimes like keeping stolen goods, crimes related to prohibition, crimes related to moral turpitude, adulteration of foodstuff, dowry cases, terrorism crimes, crimes against drugs, etc., it is presumed that accused is guilty. An evidence of pre-mediation can be given against such accused , which means it cannot be believed that accused is innocent .
4. Case Laws
i) Dataram Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh & anr: In this case it was held that freedom of an individual cannot be curtailed for infinite period, especially when his/her guilt is yet to be proved and must be considered innocent till found guilty.
ii) Chandra Shekhar v. State of Himachal Pradesh: That the freedom of an individual is of utmost importance and cannot be curtailed for indefinite period, especially when guilt, if any, is yet to be proved. It is settled law that till such time guilt of a person is proved, he is deemed to be innocent.
iii) Atley v. State of U.P. ( AIR 1955 SC 807)[iv]: It has been laid down by this Court that it is open to the High Court on an appeal against an order of acquittal to review the entire evidence and to come to its own conclusion, of course, keeping in view the well-established rule that the presumption of innocence of the accused is not weakened but strengthened by the judgment of acquittal passed by the trial court which had the advantage of observing the demeanor of witnesses whose evidence have been recorded in its presence. It is also well settled that the court of appeal has as wide powers of appreciation of evidence in an appeal against an order of acquittal as in the case of an appeal against an order of conviction, subject to the riders that the presumption of innocence with which the accused person starts in the trial court continues even up to the appellate stage and that the appellate court should attach due weight to the opinion of the trial court which recorded the order of acquittal."
The presumption of innocence is protected as a matter of law in a wealth of human rights instruments and in national legal systems. It is crucial to ensuring a fair trial in individual cases, to protecting the integrity of the justice system, and to protecting the human dignity of people who are accused of committing crimes. It is clear that the presumption of innocence is affected by how suspects are presented in public, by statements made in public by public authorities about ongoing proceedings, by the content and tone of press coverage, and by the use of restraints in courtrooms or in public settings.[v]
REFERENCES- [i] Noor Aga vs. State of Punjab and Anr, (2008) 16 SCC 417. [ii] Mohini Chaturvedi, ‘Presumption of Innocence’, Law Times Journal, available at http://lawtimesjournal.in/presumption-of-innocence/. [iii] Ibid. [iv] Deepak Kumar Singh, ‘An Analytical Report of Cases and Their Sentencing Policy and Principles Involved’, National Judicial Academy, available at http://www.nja.nic.in/4.%20Sentencing%20Level%202%20Deepak%20Singh%20.pdf. [v] ‘Inncocent Until Proven Guilty’, Fair Trial, available at https://www.fairtrials.org/publication/innocent-until-proven-guilty-0.