Presumption of innocence must always be protected

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Tom Marland

Australia’s justice system is founded on the principle that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Even for the most heinous crimes, the rights of an individual must always be protected as a basic human right and also the rights protected by a free society.

The alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House by a co-worker in 2019 has shone the light on the blurred lines between the rights of the victim and the rights of the accused.

Brittany Higgins has become a sexual abuse advocate and has been in the national media speaking publicly about her case.

This is before the matter has even been heard by a court and a finding of guilt has been handed down.

The man accused of raping Brittany Higgins has faced a “trial by media” which at times has resembled a modern-day witch hunt.

His trial has now been stayed by the ACTs Chief Magistrate due to comments made by Lisa Wilkinson about the case when accepting a gold Logie on Sunday night.

The judge found that the comments made by the media personality “obliterated the important distinction between an allegation that remains untested at law and one that has been accepted by a jury giving a true verdict according to the evidence.

No one denies the rights of a person to speak out about sexual assault and we as a society need to do more to protect those who are most vulnerable to domestic violence and assault.

But we must also respect the rights of the accused and give them the opportunity to a fair trial before their peers.

Otherwise, we head down a very dangerous path where a mere allegation is enough to establish guilt and the word of one person is more important than another.

No doubt some will be critical of the courts decision to stay the trial and I for one hope that the matter is determined sooner rather than later.

However, I have a feeling that even if the accused is found not guilty that the decision will not be accepted and his guilt has already been pre-determined by some who should know better.