The concept of beyond reasonable is known to everyone yet this remains uncertain. It differs from one court to another and from one judge to another.  This legal maxim imposes a duty on the prosecutor to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt in respect of “assessing the evidence in criminal cases.”

Section 96.2 of Civil and Criminal Procedure Code 2001 states: “finding of guilt against one or more of the parties can only be given when the prosecution to the satisfaction of the Court has established a proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As a result, in every conviction in Bhutan, the judgment states that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt as per Section 96.2 of the CCPC and as per the evidence submitted by the prosecution. However, in many instances, the decisions are either vague or lack how the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Our courts generally do not specify how each of the elements of the offence is proved and why the court considers such as beyond reasonable doubt. Since “beyond a reasonable doubt” is determined by the court, as the law states: “full satisfaction of the court”, courts must elaborate in each case how the prosecution was able to prove beyond doubt.

It is often said that the reasonable-doubt standard plays a vital role in protecting the rights of the accused in a criminal case. It is a “prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock axiomatic and elementary principle whose enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.”

Article 7 Section 16 of our Constitution recognises that an accused is presumed “innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.” The reasonable doubt is a “doubt based on reason or reasonable in view of all the evidence”, which is consistent with the defendant’s innocence.” All the “presumptions of law independent of evidence are in favour of innocence, and every person is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. If upon such proof there is reasonable doubt remaining, the accused is “entitled to the benefit of it by an acquittal.”

Indian Supreme Court said that the court must provide the benefit of every doubt to the accused.  The accused may also show based on the material a preponderance of probability in favour of his plea. If the accused succeeds in creating a reasonable doubt or shows a preponderance of probability in favour of his plea, “the obligation of accused gets  discharged, entitled to acquittal.” 

Lord Denning said that beyond reasonable doubt “need not reach certainty but it must reach a high degree of probability. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of a doubt. The law would fail to protect the community if it admitted fanciful possibilities to deflect the course of justice. If the evidence is so strong against a man as to leave only a remote possibility in his favour which can be dismissed with the sentence, of course, it is possible but not in the least probable the case is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Therefore, courts must interpret this principle cautiously as it depends on respective judges. The murkier the application of this principle, the more people will lose or cast doubt on judicial decisions.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.