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What does “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” actually mean?

  • April 24, 2024
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Picture of Erin Patterson via Nine (Marta Pascual Juanola)

By Katarina Martinic – Solicitor Kingston Lawyers

You will have all heard the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”.

In Australia, this common term is demonstrated in two principles, the burden of proof and standard of proof.

In our legal system, the burden of proof is held by the Prosecution which is represented by Prosecutors from Victoria Police and Lawyers from the Office of Public Prosecutions.

The standard of proof is beyond reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard applicable.

An accused person does not have to prove that they are innocent as the onus is on the prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty.

They must do this beyond reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof in our justice system. It is undefinable and it is a matter for the jury to decide. A judge generally cannot direct the jury on the meaning of “beyond reasonable doubt”. A judge will generally say to the jury that they have to determine what this means to themselves. You might think that it will mean something like “any alternate hypothesises are unlikely or implausible or unlikely to be true” but ultimately it will be up to you to decide what these words mean to you.

An accused does not have to give evidence themselves, but they will often do so.

In the ongoing case of Erin Patterson, more commonly known as the “mushroom lady” Ms Patterson was charged with murder after cooking a beef wellington for her in-laws and others which allegedly contained poisonous mushrooms.

Ms Patterson most recently faced court on 22 April 2024 in the regional La Trobe Valley Magistrates’ Court. In this case the Crown will have to prove to a jury that she murdered her lunch guests beyond reasonable doubt. Ultimately, the jury will decide whether the Crown has met this burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt.

If you have received a summons to attend court or are on bail, please contact our office on 03 9585 6455 to book an appointment to speak with our criminal law team.