The West Bengal government is all set to amend The West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976 and make it mandatory for any one accused of defacing property to prove his own innocence. The onus will no longer remain with the police to prove the guilt, if the new law is passed in the assembly in its next session. There could be widespread misuse of the law.

Reliable sources told Observe24x7 that the law department of the state government has already prepared the draft of the proposed law. The draft will now be discussed in the cabinet before placing it in the assembly.

According to the existing law, a person guilty of defacing property would face a maximum jail term of six months or a maximum penalty of Rs 1000 or both. The amended law, if passed by the assembly, will extend the jail term to seven years and the penalty to the present market value of the defaced property.

Significantly, presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law is an international human right under Article 11 of the the United Nation’s Universal declaration of Human Rights. The burden of proving the guilt is on the police and the prosecution, which must produce enough compelling evidence in a public trial.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe (art. 6.2) says: “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”.

It was only in the Middle Ages – after the fall of the Roman Empire – that Europe had introduced laws, which presumed guilt of the accused. And the accused had to prove his innocence by having twelve people swear that he could not have done what he was accused of. The practice clearly favoured the nobility over the lower classes.