Sunday, 19 January 2014

Nobody’s perfect.

Nobody’s perfect. Think of something that you have done wrong which may not be worthy of a visit from the police but it has done some harm. Maybe it’s dropping litter or pushed into a queue. Now think about how that action could be interpreted by others. Could it be that the litter you have dropped is seen as victimisation because your neighbour feels everyone drops litter in their garden? Could it be that one push into a queue deserves another and it is easy to see how this could escalate.

Now think about possible ‘banter’ which could be interpreted as ‘sexual harassment’.  It is easy to see how the wrongdoer could feel that they are innocent and it is easy to see how the ‘victim’ could hold the opposite opinion. What is also easy to see is that an apology could be given for any perceived offence without any acknowledgement of guilt. The trouble is that some lawyers don’t see that and an apology may imply guilt and used in evidence.

A presumption of innocence in law does not imply innocence, after all, nobody is perfect. What it does mean is that the onus is on the prosecution to find us guilty. In some courts proof is needed beyond reasonable doubt and in others proof depends on the balance of probabilities. This simply means that there has to be more than a fifty percent chance that something is true for the standard of proof to be met.

Lord Rennard is looking to get back the Liberal Democrat whip. Is he an innocent man and it would be wrong if he is not allowed to do his job? Is he a guilty man who shouldn’t be allowed back? Well it depends on how you view his actions. The police decided to drop the case against him. It doesn’t make him innocent but it doesn’t make him guilty. The internal inquiry by the Liberal Democrats found that he is guilty if the burden of proof relates to “broadly credible evidence”. However evidence is only evidence. It isn’t a conviction beyond reasonable doubt, and neither is it a conviction on the balance of probabilities.

Those who say he is guilty have missed out the conviction bit. Those who say he is innocent have missed the possibility that even his best scenario is one in which sexual harassment was perceived. Many will see the Liberal Democrat response as an unacceptable compromise but life is complicated. It would be helpful if we could tell lawyers that apologies may be made without implication of guilt. Why do I feel that the actual answer isn’t that simple?

Change the world

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