Evidence Law - Imposing Legal Burden of Defendant

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Imposing a legal burden upon a defendant will negate the principle of presumption of innocence. If a defendant has to prove their innocence than it would automatically and unconsciously bring up the issue that they were never considered innocent until proven guilty. The presumption of innocence was first articulated in the case of Woolmington v DPP [1935] AC 462, 461 where Viscount Sankey LC stated that: ‘Throughout the web of English criminal law one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilty subject to... No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law of England and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained’ This statement of the nature of the legal burden of proof in criminal trial is basically a summary of the important presumption that highlights our criminal justice system, that a person is presumed innocent till proven guilty. In the case of McIntosh v Lord Advocate [2001] 3 WLR , Lord Bingham referred to the judgement of Sachs J in the case of State v Coetzee [1997] where the importance of the principle as explained. Lord Bingham explained that: The starting point of any balancing enquiry where constitutional rights are concerned must be that the public interest in ensuring that innocent people are not convicted... Hence the presumption of innocence, which serves not only to protect a particular individual on trial, but to maintain public confidence in the enduring integrity and security of the legal system’. The presumption of innocence is supported by the European Convention of Human Rights; Article 6(2) states that ‘anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law’. Furthermore the Human Rights Act 1998 supports the presumption of innocence as well as the European Convention of Human Rights. An issue that is faced by the court in respect of cases is whether imposing a legal burden of proof on the defendant will raise issues with article 6(2) of ECHR as well as the Human Rights Act 1998. In addition the same can be said about legislation that imposes a statutory defence for the defendant to use, and in order for them to use that defence they will bear the legal burden. Even at Common law Lord Viscount Sankey himself stated that it is upon the prosecution to prove guilty, but if a defendant uses the defence of insanity than he shall bear the legal burden of proof. Despite the rule in Woolmington v DPP, there are circumstances where the burden of proof does pass to the accused. This is known as the ‘reverse burden’ or reverse onus’. There are many express statutory exceptions to offences which place’s a legal burden upon the defendant and failure to do so could mean a potential conviction. The Homicide Act 1957, s2(2) imposes a burden of proof on the accused in relation to suffering from diminished responsibility. It states: ‘On a charge of murder, it shall be for the defence to prove that the person charged is by virtue of this section not liable to be convicted of murder’. There is similar reverse burden on the accused to prove insanity under the common law rule in M’Naghten’s Case [1843] 10 CL & Fin 200. Furthermore the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 s101, places a burden on the defendant but impliedly. It states that ‘where a defendant relies for his defence on any exception, exception, exemption, proviso, excuse or qualification… the burden of proving …. shall be on him’.

In the case of R v Edwards [1975] QB 27, the defendant was convicted of selling alcohol without a license. The defendant tried to appeal on the grounds that prosecution had not produced any evidence in relation to him being granted a license. The Licensing Act 1964, section 160 clearly states ‘if any person sells...any intoxicating liquor without holding a justices license ... shall be guilty of an offence’. The...
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