x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Court affirms principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'

Defendants can only be convicted of a crime if their guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the Supreme Court's chief justice has ruled, upholding a lower court's decision in a drug case.

ABU DHABI // Defendants can only be convicted of a crime if their guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the Supreme Court's chief justice has ruled, upholding a lower court's decision in a drug case.

Any doubt of guilt must favour the defendant, Chief Justice Falah al Hajeri stressed in a ruling released this week.

The ruling pertained to a case in which prosecutors had sought the conviction of two men on drug charges in successive appeals, despite the presence of contradictory evidence in the case.

"Suspicion [of innocence] should be interpreted in favour of the defendant," Chief Justice al Hajeri wrote in the ruling, which was released on Tuesday. "Suspicion is sufficient for a criminal court to acquit a defendant."

Dr Ahmed Abdulzaher, a legal consultant for the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said the general rule was that a judge's standard of conviction should be beyond reasonable doubt.

Judges in the criminal courts, however, have latitude in weighing the evidence presented, he said.

"If there is suspicion, a judge should lean toward acquittal," Dr Abdulzaher said. "A judge should make sure the incident took place to begin with, and then make sure the defendant was the perpetrator."

Dr Abdulzaher added that judges usually took into account facts such as a police officer's failure to describe the situation properly, or making an error in presenting the evidence.

The Supreme Court ruling, issued earlier this month, involved a case in which prosecutors appealed a ruling by the Fujairah Criminal Court of First Instance, which acquitted the two men.

In one blood test, the men showed traces of toluene, an illegal inhalant, in their blood, prosecutors said. But a second blood test did not show any trace of the drug. On July 21, the court cleared them of drug charges, and prosecutors later lost on appeal, and took the case to the Supreme Court. The court rejected their argument, saying the Criminal Court was right to acquit because it was not definite that the men had used drugs.

Chief Justice al Hajeri said criminal courts should show they had studied the case carefully.

 

hhassan@thenational.ae