Burden of Proof and Standard of Proof
The law is fairly settled in SVG and is similar in many ways to the British model from which most of our laws come. We both subscribed to the common law and many of our procedures are similar.
There are many tools that are used to make the law operate almost like a science. For example, both criminal and civil laws speak to a burden of proof and a standard of proof. These are helpful constructs and are used in every case before the court, thus allowing the court to operate in the same way for everyone. Consistency is a way of making sure that there is no unfairness and that parties can have confidence in the court. A haphazard system with vague terms can only lead to uncertainty and lack of trust. The court system has standard procedures and relies on tried principles, which have served it well and proven to be reliable.
Burden of proof
In our jurisdiction the burden of proof is different in criminal court to that in a civil court. It is the prosecution that has the burden of proof in criminal matters in the Magistrate Court and the High Court. There is a Director of Prosecution, who is better known by the acronym DPP. He has the duty of proving a criminal case in the High court. The DPP and other prosecutors in his department are trained lawyers and they follow similar procedure in dealing with matters. In the Magistrate court, police prosecutors have the duty of proving cases.
In a civil court the burden is on the claimant to prove his case. He can do this on his own or with the assistance of a lawyer
The Standard of Proof
This term is used in both criminal and civil cases before the court. For criminal matters the standard of proof is “beyond reasonable doubt” and in civil matters it is “preponderance of the evidence”.
There is no precise definition for the term “beyond a reasonable doubt”, but generally the prosecution has the burden of proof and must prove that the defendant did the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. There must be no doubt about the evidence. The facts must be such that there is no doubt in the minds of the jury. This does not mean that the case must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The jury in a criminal court is told that it can only prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and if there is any doubt in the mind of a juror, the defendant must be allowed to go free.
Preponderance of evidence is the standard of proof used in civil cases. Black’s Dictionary describes it as “evidence that is of greater weight, or evidence that is more convincing than the evidence that is offered in opposition to it”. There is no prosecutor in a civil case and no jury. The claimant must prove his case and the defendant can put forward counter evidence. The lawyers examine the claimant and witnesses. The party whose evidence is more than 50 percent convincing wins the case. The judge listens to the argument put forward, sums up the evidence and decides which evidence is more convincing.
This standard of “preponderance of the evidence” is a lower standard than the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt.”
Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: [email protected]