What are the different standards and burdens of proof in legal cases?

Legal Updates

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We often speak about standards of proof and burdens of proof in legal cases or different types of applications. 

This short blog will outline what these terms mean. 

Standard of proof 

The standard of proof is the degree (this means the level) to which someone must prove their case, typically by providing evidence.

There are two main standards of proof: on the balance of probabilities and beyond a reasonable doubt

On the balance of probabilities means that something is more likely than not to have happened. This is a lower standard of proof to meet, because you do not have to prove that something happened for certain – you simply need to prove that it is more likely that it happened. 

Proving that something happened beyond a reasonable doubt is a higher standard of proof, and is used in cases where the stakes (this means risks) are higher. For example, in criminal trials, if someone is found guilty of a crime, they could end up in prison. To prove something beyond a reasonable doubt means that you must show that something happened for certain. This is why we often hear the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”. 

In cases of modern slavery or human trafficking, there is another standard of proof: reasonable grounds to believe. This is a lower standard of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt. To meet this requirement, you need to show that it would be reasonable to believe that you have experienced modern slavery or human trafficking. You can learn more about this standard of proof in our Modern Slavery Toolkit page here

Burden of proof

The burden of proof is the duty to prove something to the required standard (this means the level) of proof. 

For example, when someone claims asylum, the burden of proof is on the person who is claiming asylum to prove to the Home Office that they have a well-founded fear of persecution upon return to their country of origin.

Or, if the Home Office wants to say that someone has previously breached (this means broken) the immigration rules, the burden of proof is on the Home Office to show that this happened, and the standard of proof that they have to meet is on the balance of probabilities.

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