Respect innocent until proven guilty principle

In light of the criminal charges put forward against Muar MP, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, it is very important for everyone in the country to allow the country's law and due process to take place accordingly. No one should be allowed to give their own verdict against anyone who is currently facing criminal charges until a final decision is given by the court. Crucial to remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. All over the world, one of the most sacred principles in any criminal justice system holds that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty by the court of the competent jurisdiction. In other words, the prosecution must prove their case against the defendant according to existing rules and procedures beyond a reasonable doubt. Until the case properly has been proven, it must be known that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.

This is in line with the latin maxim ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat which means the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies. The phrase is a legal maxim in criminal law relevant to the presumption of innocence and indicates the legal burden of proof falls upon the prosecution making the charge and not the defendant. Based on this latin maxim, the prosecution has the duty to prove their case against the defendant. If the case is unable to be proven, then the defendant is entitled to be acquitted from the crime which has been charged.

Until a final verdict is given by the court, it is better for everyone to observe the presumption of innocence principle. The presumption of innocence principle seems easily forgotten in the “court of public opinion”. When high profile criminal cases capture media attention, the public opinion seems to sway towards presuming the person is guilty before the defendant even steps foot inside a courtroom to have a judge determine whether or not the defendant is actually guilty. This presumption of guilt in the public’s opinion can be devastating to the individual reputations, careers, families, and in almost every aspect of their life. Even if eventually found not guilty in a court of law, recovering from a public smearing of one’s name and reputation may prove impossible.

As such, it is important to uphold such presumption of innocence principle in order to avoid any unfair treatment or negative perception being given to the defendant before the trial has ended and final decision has been given. Such principle of innocence is a legal belonging to all accused in a criminal trial and it has also been considered part of human rights which clearly have been guaranteed under Article 11 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR 1948). Article 11 (1) of UDHR 1948 states that “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”. The presumption of innocence is a basic right conferred upon an accused by the common law of England as stated in the case of Woolmington v DPP [1935] AC 462. In Malaysia, though our Federal Constitution did not specifically mention such principle over presumption of innocence but through many decided court cases, it clearly showed that such principle has been respected and adopted in our country. A simple reference on this matter can be made to the Federal Court case of PP v Gan Boon Aun [2017] 4 CLJ 41. Such a right can also be seen through Article 5 (1) of the Federal Constitution. Article 5 of the Federal Constitution enshrines a number of basic fundamental human rights on individual life and liberty. Article 5 (1) states that no person in the country may be deprived of life or personal liberty except in accordance with law. Regardless of the case, everybody has a right to be subjected to fair hearing and to put a defense.

Until the final verdict is given by the court, it is unfair for anyone to give unfair comments and deliver their own rule or judgment on the suspect. It is also unfair for anyone to constantly call any suspect a criminal until a final verdict is delivered. Everybody must respect our legal systems and allow our court as well as our criminal justice system to operate accordingly without facing any interference or disturbance.

Dr. Muzaffar Syah Mallow

Associate Professor, Faculty of Syariah & Laws,

Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM)

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