Reginald Woolmington v Director for Public Prosecutions [1935]

Reginald Woolmington v Director for Public Prosecutions [1935] AC 462 is a landmark House of Lords case that re-consolidated the presumption of innocence in criminal law, known for identifying the metaphorical golden thread running through the domain of the presumption of innocence.

Reginald Woolmington was a 21-year-old farm labourer charged with murdering his wife, Violet, after she left him. Woolmington claimed he didn't intend to kill her but accidentally discharged a stolen shotgun while attempting to scare her into returning. At trial, the jury failed to agree, and a subsequent trial resulted in his conviction and a death sentence.

The Court of Criminal Appeal refused his appeal, relying on Foster's Crown Law, stating that once the fact of killing was proven, the defendant must prove circumstances like accident, necessity, or infirmity. The Attorney-General allowed an appeal to the House of Lords to determine the correctness of this statement.

In a unanimous decision, Viscount Sankey delivered the Golden thread speech, emphasising the prosecution's duty to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He stated that if a reasonable doubt existed, the prosecution hadn't made its case, and the defendant was entitled to acquittal. Sankey contrasted historical legal positions and precedent, asserting the fundamental principle of the common law that the prosecution bears the burden of proving guilt.

As a result, Woolmington's conviction was quashed, and he was acquitted, released three days before his scheduled execution. After his release, Woolmington lived in quiet obscurity, and there are no further newspaper reports about him after 1935. His and Violet's son, briefly adopted, later discovered his blood parentage in his 60s.

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