New Zealand barrister defends principle of presumption of innocence


New Zealand barrister defends principle of presumption of innocence

John Braddock

11 April 2018

Michael Bott, a prominent Wellington barrister and civil rights lawyer, last month issued an important call for the defence of the presumption of innocence. In an op-ed piece in the Dominion Post on March 28, Bott noted that some New Zealand politicians had called for “radical reform” of the justice system to ensure that rape accusers are believed as a “starting point” of any police investigation.

In 2014, the then-opposition Labour Party advocated reversing the onus of proof in rape cases to do away with the long-standing legal principle, protected in the NZ Bill of Rights Act, that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Spokesman Andrew Little, now the Minister of Justice, proposed that in cases where the prosecution proved a sexual encounter occurred, it would be deemed rape unless the defendant could prove it was consensual.

Bott noted that with the promotion of the #MeToo campaign, “the cry ‘believe the victim’ has become further popularised.” He wrote: “To presume that all sexual assault complainants tell the truth imposes a presumption of guilt on defendants.” The reversal of the presumption of innocence “would encourage police to cut corners rather than dispassionately and thoroughly investigate complaints,” he said.

“I have great sympathy for people who suffer sexual abuse,” Bott explained, but an automatic ‘believe the victim’ starting point in a prosecution “can and must have no place in criminal trials.” Calls to radically change laws, he warned, “protect no one and increase the risk of people who are innocent being both charged and, worse, possibly convicted.”

Bott cited two cases in which he had…

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