“Even if a thousand people may get acquitted, one innocent person should not be punished.”
A person is believed to be innocent till the guilt is proved against him. In other words, accused is entitled to take advantage of reasonable doubt in respect of his crime. This principle is known as presumption of innocence. It has been seen in countries where executorial system is prevalent. In several European countries the inquisitorial principle or the principle based on inquiry is not being followed. But contrary to Indian Law in several countries accused is considered to be an offender till he is proved to be innocent. Since India is having executorial system, the law has accepted both these principles.
In the case of Shivaji Saheb Rao Bobade, the Supreme Court cautioned that though this doctrine is very much useful, this golden rule has to be used with caution and cannot be used in any type of doubt. Accused is to be given only a reasonable benefit of doubt. If this principle is applied in all cases and is relied upon indiscriminately, it may cause an adverse effect on the administration of justice and the society may lose faith in it. Besides, it is not desirable to acquit or convict accused wrongfully. Even if accused were given punishment wrongfully, this also would create an adverse effect on the society. If accused is punished without adequate evidence against him, it also would create a bad impression on the society and may have serious consequences on his family financially and socially.
Justice is never alien to rights. Justice rests on the anvil of equal rights and liabilities, therefore, in criminal trial rights of both the parties have to be balanced to meet the ends of justice. Being negligent or biased towards any ones right will lead to miscarriage of justice. Section 101 and 102 of the Indian evidence act, state that any person approaching the court to give its judgment on any legal right or liability must prove the existence of facts that he asserts. Thus, the burden of proving fact always lies upon the person who asserts it. But there are certain provisions and statutory regulations which undermine this principle and place the burden of proving his/her innocence on the accused rather than on the prosecution. The common law maxim, “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat “ (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), was confirmed by the Supreme Court.
In the case of Noor Aga Khan vs. state of Punjab it was held by the apex court that, though not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, presumption of innocence is nevertheless a potent background to the conception of justice, in preserving confidence in enduring integrity and security of a legal system. In the case of Dataram Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh & anr, it was held that freedom of an individual cannot be curtailed for infinite period, especially when his/her guilt is yet to be proved and must be considered innocent till found guilty. In the case of Chandra Shekhar v. State of Himachal Pradesh, it was held that the freedom of an individual is of utmost importance and cannot be curtailed for indefinite period, especially when guilt, if any, is yet to be proved. It is settled law that till such time guilt of a person is proved, he is deemed to be innocent.
However, there are certain notable exceptions in the presumption. Firstly being that in many laws, mens rea or criminal minded intent is not there. While performing certain public welfare activities, a presumption arise that accused is guilty. Here accused has to prove that he was not guilty. And secondly being that, in certain other crimes like keeping stolen goods, crimes related to prohibition, crimes related to moral turpitude, adulteration of foodstuff, dowry cases, terrorism crimes, crimes against drugs, etc., it is presumed that accused is guilty. An evidence of pre-mediation can be given against such accused, which means it cannot be believed that accused is innocent. Presumption of innocence is a restatement of the rule that in criminal matters the public prosecutor has the burden of proving guilt of the accused in order to be convicted of the crime of which he is charged. Burden of proof has two elements: the first element is evidentiary burden, i.e. producing evidence in support of one’s allegation, while the second element relates to the burden of persuasion or legal burden, which is the party’s obligation to convince the court on its sides and thus the evidence must prove the party’s assertion of facts.
The effect of law has to be always looked by its effect by considering whether a law is good or bad. Special efforts are needed to make the criminal justice system more effective and by curbing the crimes of the nation, but that has to be done by keeping in mind the principles of justice and proportionality in mind. State action can never be arbitrary and has to be always in the interest of justice only. The court needs to take stronger steps in achieving and reiterating the principle of presumption of innocence as a fundamental human right and include it more prominently under Article 21.
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