Article 11: Innocent until Proven Guilty

  • 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.
  • No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

The first part of this article focuses on the rights of the prosecuted. The right to innocence until proven guilty means that it is the task of the accuser or prosecutor to prove through evidence, witnesses, etc. that the person is of guilt. And therefore not for the accused to prove their innocence. The legal term for this is called ‘The Burden of Proof.’ It is the burden of the prosecution to prove that the suspect is guilty and not for the suspect to prove that he is innocent.  The suspect also has the right to defend himself from any accusations made by the prosecution. In the article, this is written as the right to “all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” This basically means that the accused can not be denied to bring witnesses, evidence, or whatever else is necessary for his defence. According to the European Convention on Human Rights, this also includes the right to be assigned a lawyer free of charge, if you can not afford one yourself.

The second part of this article focuses on crimes committed in the past. If you are prosecuted for an offense committed in the past, you must not receive a harder penalty than the one you would have received at the time of the offense, even if the law changes. If something was not illegal at the time of the offense, you can not be penalized for it later even if the law changes.

An example where this gets tricky is when trials also must be public. The right to a public hearing is an important right, but can also present a challenge. With the ever-growing media presence, the phrase Trial by Media was invented. The coverage of a trial by the media can sway the outcome of a trial greatly. Even if the accused is found innocent, the coverage of the trial might have created a perception in the public of the person’s guilt or innocence. Especially cases involving wrongful accusations of pedophilia, murder, and sexual assaults can have massive repercussions for the accused. Even if found innocent, many have experienced being painted as guilty by the media thus making the public continue to question their innocence.

Written by Nanna Orloff Mortensen

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