Burden of Proof and Standard of Proof

Burden of Proof

A party’s obligation to prove certain facts or matters in issue.

In a civil case, the plaintiff (the person bringing the case) must prove their claim against the defendant. That being said, the defendant does not have to prove anything unless they want to present evidence to refute the plaintiff’s claim. However, once the plaintiff makes their case, the defendant can decide whether or not to present opposing evidence. Importantly, they cannot change their mind about presenting evidence after the judge has made a ruling.

Sometimes, the burden of proof can shift, especially regarding whether certain evidence is allowed in court—admissibility of evidence. Generally, the party challenging the evidence must show why it should not be admitted. The goal of evidence rules is to ensure that all relevant information is considered, but some exceptions exist, like confessions, which must be proven to be voluntary by the prosecution. 

Air of Reality

The “air of reality” test determines whether a defence to a charge is reasonable based on the evidence. This test applies to all defences but is particularly relevant for cases involving defences like provocation, necessity, drunkenness, mistaken belief in consent (in sexual matters), self-defence, and duress.

This test is applied after hearing the evidence but before the jury receives instructions. If the judge decides a defence does not meet this test, they will instruct the jury to disregard it. The objective is to ensure jurors do not consider implausible defences that might confuse their deliberations and potentially lead to unjust verdicts. 

Standard of Proof

The standard of proof refers to the level of certainty and the degree of evidence necessary to establish proof in a criminal or civil proceeding.

Criminal Standard: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In criminal cases, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means the evidence must be so convincing that there is no reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. This standard is very high to protect individuals from wrongful convictions. 

The standard does not include:

  • Describing it as an ordinary expression with no special meaning in criminal law;
  • Comparing it to the standard used in personal decision-making; and
  • Using terms like “moral certainty” or adjectives like “serious” or “substantial.”

The accused remains presumed innocent until the prosecution proves them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Civil Standard: Balance of Probabilities

In civil cases, the standard of proof is the “balance of probabilities.” This means the plaintiff must show that their claim is more likely to be true than not—especially more than 50% likely.
Think of it as a scale: if the plaintiff’s evidence is more convincing than the defendant’s, the plaintiff wins. If not, the defendant wins.

Administrative Tribunal Hearings

The standard of proof in administrative tribunal hearings is similar to that in civil cases—balance of probabilities.

Prima Facie Cases

A prima facie case means that there is enough evidence on its face to support the claim. In criminal cases, if the prosecution establishes a prima facie case, they have shown all the offence’s elements beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, if the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, they will win unless the defendant presents counter-evidence.

If there’s sufficient evidence, the defendant can move to dismiss the case, sometimes called a motion for non-suit. If the plaintiff has not proved all elements of their case, there is no case for the defendant to meet.

Presumptions

Presumptions are facts assumed to be true without needing proof. They can be rebuttable, in which case the other party can provide evidence to disprove the presumption.

Judicial Notice

Judicial notice allows a judge to recognize a fact without formal proof if it is commonly accepted and unchallenged. If a jury is present, the judge may inform the jury to accept certain facts as proven.

This blog post does not constitute legal advice and was written solely to provide information. If you would like to consult with a lawyer about the issues raised in this post, please contact Empel Law Professional Corporation at 416-500-1937.

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