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  • Writer's pictureMichael Johnsen

Presumption of innocence is not a political toy

As tempting as it may be to join the witch hunt when someone is charged with alleged crimes, particularly against children, it is beholden on society to uphold the critical tenant of law that is the presumption of innocence.

Michael Johnsen Opinion

Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. The presumption of innocence is contained in article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)- external site.

The right to the presumption of innocence is one of the guarantees in relation to legal proceedings contained in article 14. The other guarantees are the right to a fair trial and fair hearing, and minimum guarantees in criminal proceedings, such as the right to counsel and not to be compelled to self-incriminate.

According to New South Wales Police, Kiama MP Gareth Ward has been charged with three counts of assault with act of indecency and one count each of sexual intercourse without consent and common assault.

NSW Premier Dom Perrottet came out almost immediately and called for Mr Ward to resign from parliament and committed the government to move a motion to expel Mr Ward, if he does not resign.

“While Mr Ward is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as any citizen is, the standards expected of an elected Member of parliament are not compatible with the seriousness of the charges he is facing.

“Following discussion with the Acting Premier, I have therefore attempted to contact the Kiama MP to seek his resignation from the parliament with immediate effect.

“Should Mr Ward not resign, the government will move a motion to remove him from the parliament.

“Mr Ward is entitled to defend himself against the serious charges against him but he must do that as a private citizen,” Mr Perrottet said.

The Premier's statement now sets a dangerous precedent. We now have the highest office holder in the NSW legislature, undermining the presumption of innocence.

Of course, it is all for show. It is a knee jerk political reaction to serious charges bought against a sitting MP. The reality is, Mr Ward will be judged by his peers in a court of law thankfully, removed from the political games played in Macquarie Street.

My own experience of being accused, investigated, not charged and cleared, had a significant negative impact on my family and still does. NSW Police also found no evidence of certain sexting allegations.

The allegations against me were politically motivated, as stated publicly by my accuser.

I chose to resign because I didn't think it was fair on the electorate to not have a local member fully focussed on them. My focus was to prove my innocence and the electorate communities would have suffered and the community always comes first.

I was also threatened with a motion of expulsion. The quiet word at the time was that the government would support the motion bought on by a Labor opposition that thrives on politically motivated attacks regardless of the truth because it was 'just politics'.

Therein lay the issue, 'just politics' gets in the way of the rule of law and the presumption of innocence is conveniently swept aside for self interest, ego and reaction to political opponents.

The same self interest, ego and reaction demonstrated by some in my situation has led to their own removal from parliament, bought about by the same types of backroom discussions and advice they received and promoted against others.

If politicians want to send a message about integrity, the last thing they should do is undermine their own role as law makers and remember that we are all innocent until proven guilty.


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