In this article we explain to you the principles for Fair Trial that any person accused of a crime should be afforded:
- Presumption of innocence until proven guilty: This is a fundamental principle of our criminal jurisprudence. Anyone who is accused of a crime should be seen as innocent until the Court establishes that he is guilty. This means, like the example, I have given severally, that if one chances upon a man standing over the dead body of his wife with a knife in his hand and the knife dripping of blood, that man should be presumed innocent of killing his wife until proven guilty. It is because of this age-old principle that makes it criminal for anybody to participate in the lynching of a criminal even if the criminal was apprehended red handedly or was caught red-handed. This is because even that criminal is presumed innocent until the Court has gone into the matter and established his guilt of the crime. Many a time, innocent people have been condemned or killed by such mob action before their guilt is established. A witness to a crime may wrongfully identify a person as the perpetrator of the crime and often to very disastrous consequences. I know it is not easy to hand over a criminal that has been apprehended to the Police, especially when one has been a victim of a violent crime but sometimes in venting our spleen on persons we believe to be criminal, we could be wrongfully condemning an innocent person to death.
- Adequate time and facility to mount a defense: This is also a very important principle that is afforded every accused person. Whenever a person is charged with an offense, the Court must ensure that the accused person is given enough time and the necessary tools to prepare for his defense. Enough time here means time for the accused to find a Lawyer, the opportunity given to the accused to know the charges against him and the basis for the charges and the opportunity to find all the witnesses that he will need to support his story. For instance, a man is charged with causing unlawful harm because he fought with another person in traffic. The basis of the charges as given by the Police is to say that the man without provocation beat up another person in traffic and in the process wounded the person grievously. If the man’s defense is that he was first assaulted by the other man and he only threw some punches to defend himself, then the accused person must be given time:
- To go to the hospital and show his injury
- To find the witnesses, possibly the street persons who use that place as their beat,
- Any other witness the accused can bring to testify to his character as being a person not given to petty quarrels.
- To find any other piece of evidence that can help the accused person’s story.
- Permitted to defend himself either in person or by a Lawyer of his choice: Sometimes a person accused of a crime may decide to defend himself in Court. I have seen some of such accused persons do a very good job of defending themselves. Similarly, I have seen some accused persons destroy their cases by asking very self-indicting questions. I remember the funny story of the man who was accused of stealing a goat and in his bid to defend himself asked the witness whether he stole the goat with his left or right hand and when the witness said it was his left hand, the man gleefully said it was his right hand and therefore should be made to go. He thought he had done a good job but had only succeeded in convicting himself. Equally, I have seen many such accused persons fall on their own swords when they had sought to defend themselves.
My point, therefore, is that it is better to engage a Lawyer to defend you whenever you are charged with any offense. The law says that the Lawyer must be one of your own choosing. This means that you should have the opportunity to vet the Lawyer and determine whether he is best placed in terms of his commitment and competence to defend you.