In dubio pro reo: translation

New comment added and comments opened temporarily on an earlier entry:

On May 12 2004, I wrote an entry which now seems a complete mess to me. The springboard was the question, ‘Are the words “In dubio pro reo” (Im Zweifel für den Angeklagten) used in English?’, and the answer is ‘No’, because the Latin used in one legal system is often different from the Latin used in another legal system. It would be possible to make a list of Latin terms used in England, the USA, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (to name but a few), and I have a small collection of books from various jurisdictions for this purpose.

How to translate it into English? ‘Giving the defendant the benefit of the doubt’ seems a bit colloquial but certainly does the trick.

The conclusion of the entry was, or was meant to be, that the Latin words ‘in dubio pro reo’ are not used in English, nor can the principle of ‘in dubio pro reo’ be translated as ‘the presumption of innocence’.

I gave details of Google results on the term, and there was some discussion, in the comments too, about the myth among common lawyers that Continental Europe has no presumption of innocence (this point was originally mentioned by Clemens Kochinke in an article to which I refer).

The latest commenter takes issue with what he sees as the suggestion that common law is superior to civil law in this respect. What’s more worrying is that I didn’t think I or anybody else had actually said that! But perhaps the first comment did – it is rather cryptically worded.

If anyone wants to join the fray they should look at the original article and comments.

One thought on “In dubio pro reo: translation

  1. If anything, the civil law systems are superior to the Eng. Common law. There is no arraignment at the start of the trial ‘how do you plead – guilty or non-guilty?’.

    Often an unrepresented defendant in a UK crim. trial won’t know how to plead properly: ‘Yes, I did it but in self-defence’ meaning in fact ‘Not guilty’. The civil law systems leave it to the court to establish and then apply the ‘in dubio’ maxim. The presumption of innocence, as I’ve mentioned before, keeps the burden of proof on the prosecution from the outset of the trial.

    As Slobodan Milosevic, a law graduate, retorted to the Anglo-Am.-modelled War Crimes Tribunal when asked how he pleaded ‘guilty or not guilty’: ‘Ah, that’s for you to establish!’ He sounded defiant, but not to German etc. lawyers.

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