Monday, June 16, 2014

Dispensing with justice

So, Owen Glenn's horribly compromised inquiry into family abuse has finally reported back. It's key recommendation? Replace the justice system with witch trials:

Sir Owen Glenn's independent inquiry into family violence suggests shifting the burden of proof in "domestic" cases so that alleged perpetrators are considered guilty unless they can prove they are innocent.


[I]t offers "ideas for change" from those who gave evidence, including "a major review of the court system". Ideas include:
  • "Revisit the burden of proof so that it lies with perpetrators not victims."
  • Review the adversarial system which "places an excessive burden of proof on victims", replacing it with "a more collaborative system where the burden of proof is on the perpetrator".
The presumption of innocence is a fundamental safeguard in our justice system. Along with the requirement that charges are proved beyond reasonable doubt, it helps significantly reduce (but sadly not eliminate) the chances that people are punished for crimes they did not commit. We have these rules because a justice system that punishes the innocent is not worthy of the name, and is little better than a witch trial. And that's basically what Owen Glenn would have us go back to: guilt by allegation. Its not justice. Its not even revenge (in that such a system would punish those alleged to be guilty, rather than those who had actually committed crimes). Such a system would not meet basic international standards. But it would let those outraged at domestic violence and child abuse feel like they were "doing something", which is apparently all that matters to such people.

I acknowledge the difficulties in prosecuting these sorts of cases. Often there are few witnesses, which turns any trial into a contest of credibility between victim and accused. But the answer to these problems is not just to give up on our values. We should not dispense with justice just because Owen Glenn thinks its too hard.