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Understanding the standard and burden of proof in criminal trials

The criminal justice system in the UK is based on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

This is also enshrined in Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which states “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law”.

The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.

What does burden of proof mean?

It is not the responsibility of the defendant to prove their innocence. The burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt.  This is a fundamental aspect of criminal trials in England and Wales and plays a crucial role in determining the outcome of each case.

However, it is important to remember that even if you are not proven guilty, you can still be remanded in custody or have conditions imposed on your bail before your trial which mean you are not wholly treated as innocent.

What does the standard of proof mean?

The standard of proof is high, i.e. beyond reasonable doubt.  It is not enough for the prosecution to prove that the accused probably committed the crime.

Reasonable doubt refers to the level of doubt that a reasonable person might have about the guilt of the accused, based on the evidence presented in court.

If the prosecution fails to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the court must acquit the accused.

This standard of proof is an essential safeguard against wrongful convictions. It ensures that a person is not convicted of a crime based on insufficient evidence.

The prosecution must present evidence that is reliable, admissible, and relevant to the case. The evidence must be capable of proving the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

The standard of proof required in criminal trials is higher than in civil cases.

In civil cases, the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities. This means that the court must decide which side has the more likely version of events.

In criminal cases, the standard of proof is much higher, as the freedom of the accused is at stake.


In some criminal cases where certain defences are raised, the burden is reversed and the defendant is required to prove their case to the civil standard, i.e. on a balance of probabilities.

Have you been accused of committing a crime? We help clients through all stages of the criminal justice process. For advice and representation, get in touch with our expert team today.


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