, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 485-503
Date: 18 Dec 2013

Corporations and the Presumption of Innocence

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Corporate behaviour is often regulated through the criminal law by means of reverse onus offences. Such offences are alleged to involve violations of the Presumption of Innocence. Such allegations almost always assume natural persons as defendants. The arguments supporting reverse onus offences are typically instrumental, to do with the importance of the social goals promoted and the ease of proof. The Presumption of Innocence is taken to be an autonomy right of natural persons and so not subject to being sidelined for reasons of law enforcement expediency. Corporations, however, are not natural persons: they have no autonomy right not to be treated as means. It may well be, then, that reverse onus offences are justified in the case of corporate defendants. I argue that the Presumption is not violated by such offences in the case of corporate defendants. I develop a broad concept of the criminal justice system as an allocative system, and argue that reverse onus offences properly allocate the burden of proof for corporations. Specifically, I argue that the normative demand for legal innocence is sufficiently met by the availability of a due diligence defence; that the responsibility of corporations when prohibited harms occur is properly a form of outcome-responsibility; and that taking into account issues of reciprocity, legitimacy and power reverse onus offences justly allocate the burden of proof in the case of corporate defendants.

Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the Robina Institute Workshop on the Presumption of Innocence, University of Minnesota; the Canadian chapter of the International Society for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, University of Waterloo; and the Western Canadian Philosophical Association, University of Victoria.