Presumption of innocence

One of the pillars our legal system is built on is the idea that the law must consider people innocent until proven guilty. I learned that in my few years of soul destroying legal studies. And from Law and Order. Which I don’t watch. The courts have a responsibility to consider defendants innocent until proven guilty. As does the media – they can’t be seen to unduly influence court proceedings. Trial by media is dangerous – particularly in jury trials where perception can become reality.

Dr Death Part 2: the terrorist Indian is a case that has thrust the doctrine of presumption of innocence into the spotlight. The government has been lambasted for revoking Dr Haneef’s visa before any conclusive findings have emerged. While political pundits point at this move as blatant wedge realpolitiking (creating a divisive issue in the national interest) and point scoring with the critical (in terms of importance rather than critique) dumb masses – I’d say the onus on the government is slightly different. I don’t think the government needs to function under the same umbrella doctrine when it comes to the potential innocence of a potential terrorist. Their responsibility is different. Government’s must be slightly prejudiced to protect their citizen’s interests. The burden of proof is also different – extradition is a different kettle of fish to incarceration. Kicking someone out of the country for possibly being a threat to the populace is not the same as removing someone from the public because they’re a confirmed danger.

For anyone outside the judicial branch of government to presume the innocence of anyone charged is for us to presume that the police force, the prosecutors et al are incompetent and every arrest and charge is wrong.

While Haneef is probably – on the weight of the evidence published so far – only slightly more dangerous than your average Queensland medical practitioner – I don’t think the government can be criticised too much for wanting to put the interests of their citizens at the top of their concerns. Even if it’s been a critical success (in the positive opinion sense of the word) with the critical masses (in the essential to election success sense of the word) giving the government’s approval rating a slight bump upwards in the polls – that’s surely no reason to be cynical…