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  • David Ager

Thought For Today: Beyond All Reasonable Doubt

“The Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.” I Thessalonians 1:5

I was disturbed to read the other day that new guidance is to be given to juries about how they should reach their verdicts in criminal trials. No longer are they to ask themselves whether the case against the accused has been made “beyond reasonable doubt”. They should only convict where they are “satisfied so as to be sure.” This does worry me slightly.

Please believe me: this is not just the rant of a grumpy ex-lawyer, resenting the passage of time-honoured words, precious because they are ancient. Yes, I have to confess a propensity to side with the anti-change brigade in many areas of life but it’s more than that here.

First, I find the new formula rather circular. As a juror, how would I know whether I am sufficiently satisfied? Well, if I am sure of the defendant’s guilt. How shall I be sure? By being satisfied that I am. And how shall I be satisfied…see what I mean?

Second, under the former guidance, I would have needed to examine any doubt I had and to ask “Is it reasonable?” The test of that is to consider whether a hypothetical reasonable person (you know, the one famously to be found on the Clapham omnibus) would share it. If so, then I should not find the accused’s guilt established. If on the other hand our person on the bus would dismiss all my doubts, I could safely vote to convict.

It seems to me that a subjective test is in danger of replacing an objective one. If I only have to consider whether my satisfaction with the case made against the accused makes me sure then it doesn’t really matter what anyone else, reasonable or unreasonable, thinks. I dread to think what my great fictional hero Horace Rumpole would make of that.

How do I know that God loves me? Am I satisfied so as to be sure, or is it a matter beyond reasonable doubt? You bet it is. Not only is there the record of millions across all the generations of history who have witnessed the faithfulness of God, but just look at the cross of Christ – a fact of history that St John in his gospel describes as Jesus loving us “to the end”, using a word that means the furthest you can get.

To reach a verdict on that, not only can you be satisfied so as to be sure; it’s beyond all reasonable doubt!

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