Amongst those things that are hard to define, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ relies on an abstract assumption that there is a point short of proof-positive at which we can close the gap between probability and certainty.
Our legal system rests on the presumption of innocence which can only be shattered by ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. There is no question that it’s better to let nine guilty men go free, than to convict one innocent man.
Our adversarial system of law ensures rich pickings for professional vultures, their black cloaks and anachronistic wigs mimicking the carrion feeders, both species picking at the flesh of carcasses that have fallen foul of the Law, albeit natural or man-made.
A defence barrister can extract the best part of an average worker’s annual salary in just one day in court, a lengthy trial requiring asset sales and second mortgages to secure deliverance from penury.
Liberty, fraternity and egalitarianism come at the price of eternal vigilance, the watchful eye of the law keen to isolate infractions of justice, the conveyor belt of legal process requiring offenders to keep the wheels turning and salaries paid.
Plea bargains and out-of-court settlements serve as an ersatz currency, a black market where litigation conveyancers thrive like dung beetles on a cowpat. Guilty transgressors are able to find endless sources of funding, the threat of incarceration or punitive damages looming large in the mind of the offender, reinforced by the even greater threat of public censure.
In so many ways we live in a society where the only crime is that of getting caught, where ‘there but for the Grace of God, go I’ has a familiar ring, the anthem of those who would ‘do as I say, not as I do’.
Any system is limited by its own parameters, the old adages of justice being blind and the law being an ass, testimony to the shortcomings of enshrined practises which had their roots in a feudal system that was suited to a society where the wealthy could ride roughshod over those relegated to serfdom and the death penalty for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family was graciously commuted to incarceration on the other side of the planet.
We like to think we have come a long way since then, however the boundaries of privilege remain and the silver spoon lives on. Even Ronald Biggs, the Great Train Robbery mastermind, decided he had had enough of living in exile in South America only to return to the motherland to face the music. His health suffering, he needed the succour of the NHS so his loss of freedom was traded for much needed free medical care.
As the mutineers on the Bounty discovered, life on Pitcairn Island was no Paradise. A system, in spite of its limitations, is still a vehicle for orderly dispensation of essential needs and no one timetable will satisfy all desires.
So it goes that the law we have may not be perfect and may be shaped by those who would transgress, however the alternative of anarchy is only a short-lived one-way ticket to our lowest common denominator, where the strong survive, the weak are downtrodden and mercy is an unknown commodity.
Been there, done that.