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s 141 – Criminal proceedings: standard of proof

141 Criminal proceedings—standard of proof

(1) In a criminal proceeding, the court is not to find the case of the prosecution proved unless it is satisfied that it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

(2) In a criminal proceeding, the court is to find the case of a defendant proved if it is satisfied that the case has been proved on the balance of probabilities.

Expressions defined in the Dictionary are identified in bold print. Click here to access the Dictionary.

Continuity and change – no change

  1. The ALRC sought to preserve the status quo regarding the standard of proof in criminal trials. Section 141 therefore imposes the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ standard on the prosecution and the ‘balance of probabilities’ standard on the defence.
  2. The standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is the highest standard known to the law:
  3. The phrase is a composite expression, and a judge should not attempt to define the three words separately (R v Chatzidimitriou (2000) 1 VR 493; [2000] VSCA 91).
  4. Whether a doubt is reasonable is a matter for the jury. Each juror must consider the evidence and apply the judge’s directions to decide whether he or she is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the prosecution has proven its case (Green v R (1971) 126 CLR 28; R v Southammavong; R v Sihavong [2003] NSWCCA 312; Thomas v R (1960) 102 CLR 584).
  5. Attempts to further explain the meaning of the phrase ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ are fraught with danger. Any explanations may be unhelpful, or may obscure the point that the accused is entitled to the benefit of any doubt the jury considers reasonable (Thomas v R (1960) 102 CLR 584; Green v R (1971) 126 CLR 28).

    Standard of proof and circumstantial evidence

  6. When the prosecution’s case is based on circumstantial evidence, the standard of proof requires that the accused’s guilt be the only rational inference from the proven facts (Shepherdv R (1990) 170 CLR 573; [1990] HCA 56; Chamberlain v R (No 2) (1984) 153 CLR 521; [1984] HCA 7; Barca v R (1975) 133 CLR 82).
  7. The jury must acquit the accused if there is another inference open that is consistent with innocence (Peacock v R (1911) 13 CLR 619; [1911] HCA 66; Barca v R (1975) 133 CLR 82; Doney v R (1990) 171 CLR 207; [1990] HCA 51).
  8. The courts commonly draw a distinction between:
  9. In a case that depends on sequential reasoning, the jury must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of every essential intermediate fact that leads to the conclusion of guilt. In contrast, the jury does not need to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt regarding individual facts if the case against the accused relies on an accumulation of detail (Shepherd v R (1990) 170 CLR 573; [1990] HCA 56).

    Defence standard of proof

  10. Under s141(2), the civil standard of proof applies to matters where the defence carries the legal burden of proof.
  11. For example, the defence carries the legal burden:

    Significant other sections that are or may be relevant

Last updated: 10 August 2010

See Also

Part 4.1 – Standard of Proof (ss 140 – 142)

s 140 – Civil proceedings: standard of proof

s 142 – Admissibility of evidence: standard of proof