Justifications for encroachments

9.20       Lord Bingham has noted that although the presumption of innocence has been recognised since at latest the early 19th century, it has ‘not been uniformly treated by Parliament as absolute and unqualified’.[30]

9.21       Laws reversing the onus of proof have been justified for a few reasons. For example, it is sometimes said to be justified where it is particularly difficult for a prosecution to meet a legal burden.[31] For example, in cases concerning offences against the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) such as Williamson v Ah On (1926), Isaacs J explained that the evidentiary burden will necessarily shift depending on which party has the requisite knowledge and evidence to adduce the truth in proceedings:

The burden of proof at common law rests where justice will be best served having regard to the circumstances both public and private.[32]

9.22       The seriousness of an offence is also sometimes used to justify reversing the onus of proof, particularly where there appears to be a significant threat to the safety of the public.[33]

9.23       Bills of rights allow for limits on most rights, but the limits must generally be reasonable, prescribed by law, and ‘demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society’.[34]

9.24       Some laws reversing the onus of proof may be justified. The ALRC invites submissions identifying such Commonwealth laws that are not justified, and explaining why these laws are not justified.