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