Tuesday, 17 July 2007

We do not presume

The presumption of innocence is a wonderful thing, if not a little risky. It really undergirds the whole of our legal system.
It is indeed a risky thing, because our presumption may sometimes be mistaken. It is the price we pay for not having a system which presumes guilt, which is also a risky thing, because the consequences of presuming an innocent person is guilty can be devastating (if not fatal) for ...well...an innocent person. In our civilised way we think this is worse thing to risk than occasionally letting a guilty person go free.
Now, I don't know whether Mohammad Haniff (here)is innocent or guilty. I am therefore disturbed by the immigration processes used to detain him yesterday, after the presumption of innocence had been effected by a legitimate court.
This indeed is one of the fatal weaknesses of the whole framing of immigration law (not just this case) we presume guilt. Now no doubt a Minister, in this case Kevin Andrew, may claim knowledge of special circumstances (and may indeed have such); but we have courts to test the veracity of this sort of 'special knowledge'. We are on a slippery slope indeed when authorities, however august, outside the legal system presume to effect the processes of the law.
I hold no hope that any of this will be heard by those in power (on either side) or that forthcoming elections will change their stance. Ever fearful of the electorates' anxiety they will not risk being thought 'weak'.
But it seems to me that the true 'weakness' here is not being prepared to stand up for the fundamental principles of our way of life. Presumption of innocence is one such.

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