The Presumption of Innocence and the Role of a Prosecutor

Rule of Law Education interviewed Senior Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi AM QC about the role of a prosecutor, the presumption of innocence, and the standard of proof in a criminal case.

Mark Tedeschi AM QC has led some of NSW’s most high profile criminal prosecutions in recent times including the prosecution of Ivan Milat. 

An outline of the video and key quotes have been placed below.

The Role of a Prosecutor 00:00

Mark Tedeschi AM QC discusses the dual roles and responsibilities of a prosecutor.

1. To ensure justice is done for the accused.
“As a prosecutor you are there to see that justice is done, not to get a conviction at all costs.”
“A prosecutor is there, like a judge, to see that justice is done”

2. To ensure justice is done for the community.
“The prosecutor has an obligation representing the community.”
“You are there as a minister of justice … to ensure the accused gets a fair trial, but you are also there to make sure that the community gets a fair trial.”

How have the duties of a prosecutor changed over time? 01:39

Mark Tedeschi QC discusses the changing obligations surrounding the disclosure of facts and evidence.

By the time of the trial the accused is entitled to know everything that is relevant to the case.”
“[The] duty of disclosure has become heightened.”

What is the prosecutors main role when speaking to the court? 02:50

Mark Tedeschi QC discusses the importance of making proceedings understandable to the jury. He says that the most important role of a prosecutor is “to explain legal concepts to jurors in a way that they will understand.”

What is the presumption of innocence? 03:35

Mark Tedeschi QC discusses the definition of the presumption of innocence. He says the presumption of innocence means … “that the prosecution brings the charge against the accused, and for that reason the prosecution has the burden of proving that charge. The standard of proof required is proof beyond reasonable doubt…”

What is the standard of proof? 04:15

Mark Tedeschi QC then discusses why it is difficult for juries to define ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and the difference between mathematical certainty and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.