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MoJ left red faced by court guide gaffe

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Ministry of Justice officials have been badly embarrassed by a document which appeared to undermine the ancient principle that those facing criminal charges are “innocent until proven guilty.”

This is a fundamental element of British law, dating back to the days of Magna Carta – the famous charter of rights which celebrates its 800th anniversary this year.

But the tenet was seemingly contradicted by an “easy read” guide, produced by the MoJ to explain the legal process to people with learning difficulties.

It read: “If you say you did not do the crime, you may have to go back to the court on a different day, to show the court you did not do the crime.”

Jack of Kent, a well-known legal blogger, speculated that the copywriter who had handled the guide had no legal experience and no-one with the appropriate qualifications had taken time to check the document.

“The MoJ tells defendants that they have to prove they are innocent. This is a reversal of the actual burden of proof – it is, of course, for the prosecution to prove to the court a defendant is guilty,” he wrote at the weekend.

“What makes this particularly worrying is that it is in an official document – supposed to be authoritative and reliable – aimed at people with learning difficulties facing trials for serious crimes.”

After the mistake came to light, the guide was hastily removed from the MoJ website and a spokesman confirmed this week that it was being reviewed.

“Easy-read guides are an important way of providing information to people in simple and straightforward language,” said the spokesman. “It is crucial to ensure these documents are precise and as helpful as possible.”

At Lester Morrill, our criminal law team has a wealth of experience representing people facing a range of charges. For more advice on how our Leeds-based solicitors can help you, contact us today.