1.7.1 – Charge: Onus and Standard of Proof

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It is a critical part of our justice system that people are presumed to be innocent, unless and until they are proved guilty. So before you may return a verdict of guilty, the prosecution must satisfy you that [each of] the accused is guilty of the charge[s] in question.

As the prosecution brings the charge[s] against the accused, it is for the prosecution to prove that/those charge[s]. The accused does/do not have to prove anything. That never changes from start to finish. It is not for the accused to demonstrate his/her/their innocence, but for the prosecution to prove the charge[s] they have brought against him/her/them.

The prosecution must do this by proving [each of] the accused’s guilt of the charge[s] beyond reasonable doubt. You have probably heard these words before, and they mean exactly what they say – proof beyond reasonable doubt.

This is the highest standard of proof that our law demands. It can be compared with the lower standard of proof that is required in a civil case, such as where one person sues another for breach of contract. In that situation, matters only need to be proved on what is called the “balance of probabilities”. That is, they need to be shown to be more likely than not.

By comparison, in a criminal trial the prosecution must prove the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Unless I tell you otherwise, this is what I mean when I say that the prosecution must “prove” or “establish” a matter, or that you must be “satisfied” about a matter.

The prosecution does not need to prove every fact that they allege to this standard. It is the essential ingredients or “elements” of the charge[s] that they must prove to this standard. In this case, that means that the prosecution must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that [list elements of the primary offence. Repeat for any other offences].

I will explain these elements to you in detail, and relate them to the evidence in this case, after you have heard all of the evidence.

However, for now you should know that it is only if you find that the prosecution has proven all of the elements of a charge beyond reasonable doubt that you may find the accused guilty of that charge. If you are not satisfied that the prosecution has done this, your verdict in relation to that charge must be “Not Guilty”.

Your verdict of guilty or not guilty must be unanimous. That is, whatever decision you make, you must all agree on it.

Last updated: 29 June 2015

See Also

1.7 – Onus and Standard of Proof