Criminal Evidence - Burden of Proof & Article 6(2)

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Historical background & Development of the law of Criminal Evidence In criminal proceedings, the legal burden of proving any fact which is essential to the prosecution’s case rests upon and remains with the prosecution for the duration of the trial. Generally, the defendant in the proceedings will bear no legal burden at all in relation to the essential ingredients of the offence. The reasoning behind this is that all persons are entitled to a fair trial where the presumption of innocence is a fundamental right. It would be unfair to expect a person accused of a crime to disprove the accusation, with the result that if he fails to do so he faces conviction and punishment. This rule was clarified by the case of Woolmington v DPP which involved a farm labourer, Reginald Woolmington, who had been convicted of killing his wife. Woolmington appealed on the basis that the trial judge had misdirected the jury but his application was refused. However, since this decision involved a point of law of “exceptional public importance”, the Attorney General allowed the case to be brought before the House of Lords, who quashed the conviction. The decision of the House was that it is for the prosecution to prove both death as a result of a voluntary act by the defendant, and also prove the malice of the defendant. The defendant is entitled to provide an explanation or evidence in relation to the events. If the jury are satisfied with his explanation or, on review of all the evidence presented, are in doubt whether or not the act was unintentional or provoked, even if the defendant’s explanation is not accepted, he is entitled to be acquitted. Therefore, it was for the prosecution to prove Mr Woolmington killed with malice, rather than for Mr Woolmington to prove that he had some excuse, justification or explanation for the killing. The rule established by Woolmington is subject to exceptions and it is the rules of substantive law that determine which party bears the burden of proof in relation to the proceedings. For example, where the defendant raises the defence of insanity, he will bear the legal burden of proving it. Where it is alleged that the defendant suffers from a disability which renders him unfit to plead and stand trial, this issue may be raised by either the prosecution or defence. If raised by the prosecution, they must prove the issue beyond reasonable doubt, whereas if raised by the defence they must only prove the issue on a balance of probabilities. Where the defendant is charged with murder and seeks to raise the issue of insanity or diminished responsibility, the prosecution may present evidence to prove the other of those issues, but must then bear the burden of proving the other issue for which they have presented evidence. The standard of proof required in such case is beyond reasonable doubt. A further exception to the rule in Woolmington arises where statute expressly places the legal burden of providing certain issues on the defendant, although the burden for all other issues remains with the prosecution. An example can be found at s2(2) of the Homicide Act 1957 which places the legal burden of establishing the defence of diminished responsibility on a charge of murder, on the defendant. Statutes may also impliedly place the legal burden of proof on the defendant. S.101 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 provides that where a defendant relies on any exception, proviso, excuse or qualification, the burden of proving it shall be on him. This must be read subject to the Human Rights Act 1998. It applies to statutes that contain exceptions such as “unless”, “provided that” and “except where...” This is clarified by the case of Gatland v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [1968] which involved application of s.161(1) of the Highways Act 1980. The Act provides that a person depositing anything on the highway “without lawful authority or excuse” shall be guilty of an offence. It was held that it was for the...
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