Presumption of Innocence & Burden of Proof
A Cardinal Principle of Criminal Justice Administration
The administration of justice as a system tries to maintain a core balance between the search for truth, the fairness of the process and ensuring justice. To this end, one of the major cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence is that an accused person must be presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proved by credible and legal testimony beyond reasonable doubt. If there is a single principle of criminal jurisprudence that is well rooted and jealously guarded, it is that an accused person must in every case be presumed to be innocent unless and until the contrary is established. This is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in Section 36(5). This principle forms the foundation of our criminal system, of which no departure is accommodated. In the celebrated case of Woolmington v DPP, it was referred to as the “golden thread” that runs throughout criminal law. It was held that;
“Throughout the web of English Criminal Law, one golden thread is always to be seen, that is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt…. No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained” Per Viscount Sankey.