Sunday, 21 April 2013

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

An unpalatable feature of contemporary British journalism is an emerging tendency - especially in high-profile cases - to presume a suspect guilty until s/he is proved innocent. 

This came under scrutiny during the recent Leveson Inquiry, when a suspect of the murder of Joanna Yeates complained that he had been vilified by the media. A repeat of his shameful treatment is now being played out with gusto by the BBC as well as by popular (or rather, populist) tabloids.

The assumptions that our press have taken to making as to the innocence or guilt of suspects amount to the written equivalent of mob lynching and constitute a grossly retrograde step for our admirable British legal tradition.

The latter headline shows how little regard is being showed for the principle of 'innocent until prove guilty' - it seems our press has already dubbed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the 'Boston Bomber'. Let's be clear: Mr. Tsarnaev has not been found guilty of a crime. He may well be found guilty, but until we know we have a duty to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

This assumption of guilt causes devastating harm to innocent suspects - like, as it turned out, Mr. Jefferies in the case of Joanna Yeates. The real danger, though, is the damage done to our collective mindset. It completely undermines the cornerstone of British law. 

Many of our more right-wing papers like to emphasise the danger that European integration represents to British values and freedoms. They decry threats to our way of life from mass immigration and radical Islamic preachers. They proclaim their Britishness with pride. Yet it is these papers who are most often and most grossly guilty themselves of the charge detailed above.

Perhaps they should remind themselves that the ‘British’ way to treat Mr. Tsarnaev would be to assert one thing above all other things until his trial has been concluded one way or the other: that he is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

1 comment:

  1. It was not Mr. Jefferies who killed Joanna Yeates, but, like everyone else close to her murder, he is guilty of remaining silent while her jealous killer goes free. The face on the video screen who pleaded guilty of Manslaughter at the Old Bailey on 5th May 2011 was not the defendant's but an imposter's. The jury was not told that her body was found only after a tip-off, and it took 4 fire engines and 23 fire-men to recover it from its hiding place. The news media did not report that an inquest was held, nor its findings. Was she pregnant? The key evidence in the rigged trial was led not by witnesses under oath, but by QCs - but the judge was silent. It was not Dr. Tabak who killed Joanna.