The presumption of innocence – what is it?
The presumption of innocence is the legal principle in criminal cases that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. This basically means that until a judicial pronouncement on the guilt or otherwise of the accused person is made, he/she is to be treated the same as a regular person; any suggestion to the opposite would be a breach of the Fundamental Human Rights of the individual.
The Nigerian 1999 Constitution in Section 36(5) guarantees this right. The practicalities of what this means for you as an individual if you are charged with a crime under Nigerian law, is that if for any reason you are discriminated against because of the fact that you are facing a court case, then you can sue for breach of your Fundamental Human Rights.
The other element to the presumption of innocence is that the burden of proving the guilt of the accused person is on the prosecution. The prosecution is given the responsibility of producing enough evidence and arguments to prove the guilt of criminal defendants beyond a reasonable doubt. No matter what indictment or formal charges are brought against the defendant, and no matter what the personal feelings of those involved may be, if government prosecution cannot decisively demonstrate the defendant’s guilt in trial then that person is legally “not guilty” and free to go.
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