Guilty until proven innocent

Once again, in relation to charges levelled against their own, politicians have claimed that like everyone else, they deserve the presumption of innocence. But the old saw “innocent until proven guilty” is no universal human right. It is merely a corollary of the 18th century Blackstone’s Formulation: “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”.

For persons in positions of trust — politicians, police officers, customs officers, judges and so on — different calculations apply. The community cuts public officers less slack, because the consequences of their misconduct are far reaching. When only one bad apple can spoil the barrel, Blackstone’s Formulation patently does not apply. It is probably better that 10 innocent politicians (or police officers or airport baggage handlers) lose their jobs than for one wrongdoer to stay in place.

If politicians agree to be held to higher standards than members of the public, then as part of the bargain, they cede the presumption of innocence.