williams.deirdre at gmail.com
Wed Mar 6 17:48:56 EET 2019
Have you ever tried to prove that you *did not* do something you were
accused of? This has to be one of the most difficult things in the world to
do, and especially in the case where it is a matter of the accuser’s word
against your word. This is a situation to which all of us are vulnerable.
Shakespeare makes Hamlet advise Ophelia, “Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure
as snow, thou canst not escape calumny”. Most of us, hopefully, will never
have to face this situation in its most serious context as a criminal
matter. However the risk of false accusation is continually present.
The persons who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were
aware of this danger, and made provision for it, specifically in Article 11
(I) which describes the right to the presumption of innocence for the
accused in a court of law. It seems to me that this provision has generated
a whole pattern of thinking, which has percolated down into everyday
situations as well, a perception that the accused is innocent until proven
guilty, and that the burden of proof lies with the accuser.
Until recently that is.
Recently, social media, and specifically in the case that drew this to my
attention Facebook, has reversed that right. The burden of proof now lies
on the accused, who is considered guilty until the proof of innocence is
About 100 years ago, shortly after the end of the Second World War, WB
Yeats wrote a prophetic poem called “The Second Coming”. The phrase about
the “ceremony of innocence” was formerly rather enigmatic for me “The
blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is
drowned,”; now it stand revealed. There is no innocence any longer. Instead
of each of us being hypothetically innocent, each one of us is guilty, at
the whim of anyone who chooses to accuse us.
This matter of presumption, of innocence or guilt, very deeply affects the
whole relationship between the individual and the law. If you consider
articles 7 to 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, each of
these rights is compromised if the “presumption of innocence” becomes a
“presumption of guilt”.
So far the discourse on human rights and the internet/social media has
focussed on the right to freedom of expression with a consideration added
later of the right to privacy. Can the right to presumption of innocence
for the accused, with the burden of proof being placed on the accuser, be
added to that discussion?
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to
equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against
any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any
incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national
tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the
constitution or by law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an
independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and
obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent
until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had
all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
Looking forward to hearing what you think
“The fundamental cure for poverty is not money but knowledge" Sir William
Arthur Lewis, Nobel Prize Economics, 1979
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