Understanding Presumption of Innocence

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In Zimbabwe everyone is regarded innocent until properly convicted by a court of law. This means that everyone is innocent in the eyes of the court and the law until they have been proven guilty and the allegations leveled against them have been satisfactorily proven to the court. This presumption is very important and is entrenched in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and a lot of International Conventions. It is important to know about this presumption because until an allegation has been proven to be true and convincing, a person is innocent.

What is a conviction?
A conviction is an objective and impartial official pronouncement that a person has been proved legally guilty by the prosecution in a trial conducted properly. It is a finding that a court may come to after looking at the allegations and the evidence that is availed to support such allegations. A court relies on evidence to prove whether or not on that evidence they may properly convict a person. The courts take seriously the freedom of people and thus they take their time to scrutinize the evidence, a conviction is never hurriedly arrived at because it may violate rights of that individual.

In a criminal matter the proof which is relied upon should be beyond a reasonable doubt and in a civil matter it should be on a balance of probabilities. This means that in order to secure a conviction, the prosecution must be in a position to prove the accused person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proving the guilt lies on the prosecution and the accused person does not have to prove that he is innocent. If even a single element of the crime is not proven by the prosecution, the accused cannot be convicted.

What is proof beyond a reasonable doubt? 
A common and good example was given by Denning J (as he then was) in the case of  Miller v Minister of Pensions [1974] 2 All ER 372 (KBD) at 373

“ It need not reach certainty , but it must carry a high degree of probability. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond a shadow of doubt. The law would fail to protect the community if it admitted fanciful possibilities to deflect the course of justice. If the evidence I so strong against a man as to leave only a remote possibility in his favor, which can be dismissed with the sentence ‘of course its possible but not in the least probable’, the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt, but nothing short of that will suffice”.

Any reasonable possibility of the accused’s explanation being true should be washed away if a person’s guilt is to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.