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BETTER FOR TEN GUILTY PERSONS TO GO FREE THAN ONE INNOCENT SHOULD SUFFER

Dictum

As we indicated in Stephen Ukorah v. The State (1977) 4S. C. 167 there is great need for a trial court to tread cautiously in the application of circumstantial evidence for the conviction of an accused for any offence with which he is charged. The Romans we pointed out, with approval, in Ukorah (Supra at p .177) had a maxim that it is better for a guilty person to go unpunished than for an innocent one to be condemned: and Sir Edward Seymour speaking on a Bill of Attainder in 1696 laid greater emphasis on this maxim when he stated that he would rather “that ten guilty persons should escape than one innocent should suffer.” That also was our view in Ukorah (Supra).

— Idigbe, JSC. Adie v. State (1980) – SC24/1978

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PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT DEPENDS ON THE QUALITY OF WITNESSES

It is a settled principle of law that in criminal proceedings the prosecution must establish the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. It is also well settled that proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of a doubt or beyond any iota of doubt. If the prosecution has led evidence that is cogent, credible and compelling, which points irresistibly to the guilt of the accused, it would have discharged the burden. Proof beyond reasonable doubt depends not on the quantity of witnesses for the prosecution but upon the quality of the evidence given.

— K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun, JSC. State v Sani Ibrahim (2019) – SC.1097/2016

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PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT DENOTES PROOF TO MORAL CERTAINTY

Invariably, the term proof beyond reasonably as implored in Section 135 of the Evidence Act, denotes proof to moral certainty or standard. Thus, such proof as accords to the conscience of the trial judge as a reasonable Judge, that the crime so charged has indeed been committed by the defendant, thereby leaving no other reasonable conclusion possible.

– I.M.M. Saulawa JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)

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GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT IS THE BASIC

The basic necessity before a verdict of guilty in a criminal charge can be pronounced is that the jury are satisfied of the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt.

– Nnamani JSC. Lori v. State (1980)

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WHAT REASONABLE DOUBT MEANS IN CRIMINAL TRIAL

The term “Reasonable doubt” has not been defined in the definitions Section 2 of the Act, but its connotation has received many definitions from judicial authorities. For instance, the very famous and erudite Denning, J (later M.R.) in the case of MILLER V. MINISTER OF PENSIONS (1947) 2 ALL E.R. 372 said that- “It need not reach certainly, but it must carry a high degree of probability. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of a doubt.” The term is therefore of common law origin and was incorporated in our law of evidence.
In the case of BAKARE V. STATE (1987) 579 @ 587, our own version of Denning, J and equally erudite and eloquent OPUTA, JSC put the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt thus:- “Proof beyond reasonable doubt stems out of the competing presumption of innocence inherent in our adversary system of criminal justice. To displace the presumption, the evidence of the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond the shadow of doubt that the person accused is guilty of the offence charged. Absolute certainty is impossible in any human adventure including administration of criminal justice. Proof beyond reasonable doubt means what it says. It does not admit of plausible and fanciful possibilities but it does admit of a high degree of cogency consistent with an equally high degree of probabilities.”

– M.L. Garba JCA. Odogwu v. Vivian (2009) – CA/PH/345/05

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EXPLANATION OF PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT

Lord Denning explained proof beyond reasonable doubt in Miller v Minister of Pensions (1947) 2 ALL ER p.372 and this explanation was adopted by this Court in Lori & Anor v State (1979-1981) 12 NSC p.269 and in innumerable decisions of this Court. His Lordship said: “Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of doubt. The law would fail to protect the community if it admitted of 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 reasonable doubt but nothing short of that will suffice.”

– Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Nwankwoala v FRN (2018) – SC.783/2015

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CORRUPT PRACTICES ARE TO BE PROVED BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT

In the instant case, the Petitioners have grounds of non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 and allegation of corrupt practices. Section 134(1) (b) refers to the ground of corrupt practices or non-compliance. If the ground pursued in any petition is simply non-compliance with the Act and there is no tincture of allegation of crime, the proof required would be on the balance of probabilities. But the standard of proof in any ground that is primarily on corrupt practices would require proof beyond reasonable doubt, that allegation being criminal in nature.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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