Today, an important shift in the balance of power between the individual and the state will take place. More people should know about it.
Section 12 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 comes into force. The section amends section 5 the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – the section that provides for restraining orders.
Yesterday, restraining orders could only be given to those convicted of an offence of harassment. From now onwards, any person convicted or acquitted of any offence can be made subject of a restraining order, notwithstanding their acquittal.
So as of today, someone could tell a series of spurious and harmful lies about you to the police; you would be investigated and charged, whilst protesting your innocence; your case would proceed to court where you would, one hopes, be vindicated and acquitted on all charges – but then, in an important and deeply worrying shift of the burden of proof, the court could still restrain your liberty. Because, presumably, the court reckons you might be up to no good, despite having just acquitted you.
That’s not the right legal test in this country. The state, with all the powers available to it, has to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. It can either meet that standard or it can’t. This new law is a transparent attempt to sidestep that ancient and proper hurdle to convicting people of criminal offences.
Do bear in mind when considering the seriousness of this that breaching a restraining order can be punished with up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
By Alex Deane