Guilty until proven innocent?

Suggesting the burden of proof be reversed to guilty unless proven innocent is getting into very dangerous legal territory.

RNZ: Call to shift burden of proof to rape-accused

Labour’s sexual violence spokesperson, Mrs Williams has called for radical reform of the sexual justice system which would see rape accusers believed by police as a starting point.

Every accuser should be given the benefit of doubt and believed when investigating an alleged crime of any sort, unless there is good reason to disbelieve them.

But taking that approach in court is a much riskier approach.

This would place the burden of proof on the accused – directly contradicting the philosophy of “innocent until proven guilty”.

Ms Williams said many victims of rape do not report it because they have little faith in the justice system.

She said the country needed to have a discussion about how to address that power imbalance.

Seeking better ways of conducting investigations and prosecutions would be the best way to deal with it.

Now, I know that runs up against ‘innocent until proven guilty’, and that would be one of the issues that we’d really have to consider long and hard, but I’m of the view that we have to make some changes.”

Poto Williams said she didn’t yet know how the policy would be implemented.

“I don’t pretend to have the legal nous in which to do this, but I’m comfortable that there is a way that we can work our way through this.

So Williams is posing the possibility. It doesn’t look lioke being anywhere near Labour policy.

“But at the end of the day we cannot, in all good conscience, say to victims of rape and sexual abuse, ‘your case will be ignored.’

“One thing we have to do is find out the numbers of false allegations that have been made, because that will be one of the things people will be really concerned about – that someone who’s falsely accused of sexual abuse will be put through a process that is completely unfair.”

It’s also long established that it’s unfair to presume guilt unless proven innocent.

A Hawke’s Bay barrister, Jonathan Krebs, said contradicting the principle of innocent until proven guilty in New Zealand’s justice system would be unthinkable.

“The rule about the prosecution having to prove offending and allegations beyond reasonable doubt is zealously held,” he said.

“Any proposal that a complainant of any sort of offending should be deemed to be telling the truth and an accused person must prove their innocence would be such a radical departure that I don’t think that would gain very much support at all.”

It’s hard to guess why Williams is raising this. It’s unlikely to go anywhere. Surely Labour won’t consider it seriously as policy.