Leading article: Not such innocent presumptions


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The Independent Online

It's been quite a week for pre-judgment. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Condemned in the court of public opinion, but not in any court of law, the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Stephen Hester, was pressured into giving up a bonus he was entitled to. The former head of the same bank, Fred Goodwin, was stripped of the knighthood he had received when financial recklessness was seen as audacity – a virtue more than a vice – even though there was not a whiff of personal dishonesty.

Then the week concluded with Chris Huhne resigning as Energy Secretary, after being charged with – but not yet tried for – perverting the course of justice over a speeding offence, and John Terry losing the England captaincy, after his trial on a charge of racial abuse was inconveniently set for after Euro 2012. In Terry's case, the justification was that the pending trial made his position untenable. The same might be said of the departing minister.

All these people have had the misfortune to be stranded in a no man's land between public opprobrium and legal proof, at a time when the British are deep into one of their – selective – bouts of moral rectitude. But the principle that someone is innocent until proven otherwise is too important to be allowed to drift away.