The last time I looked, our rule of law required firm proof, evidence that somebody had committed a crime. Without it, there can be no conviction.
Clearly things have changed, with the pronouncement by Sir Robert Owen, QC, Chair of the public enquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, that the Russian state, and therefore President Vladimir Putin, 'probably' ordered his assassination in London by two FSB officers in 2006, and that it was 'entirely possible' that Andrei Lugovoi, one of the officers, had been planning the murder since 2004.
(I should add here that in my Harry Tate thriller 'Execution', I make reference to FSB officers murdering an oligarch and friend of Alexander Litvinenko in London. But that was fiction. Sir Robert Owen's words carry the legal weight of the state behind them and pointed to specific living persons responsible, mine do not).
He added that there was a 'considerable quantity' of secret intelligence that was not aired in open court, leaving us to conclude with a nod and a wink that this was sufficient for us all to put on the black cap and call for something to be done.
Now, he could be right. Putin comes across as a powerful, even ruthless individual. He's not somebody I'd be happy to sit down with for tea. In my mind he joins Robert Mugabe, Kim jong-un, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (leader if Isil) and many others in whose company I would choose not to be.
But that's not the point.
The problem is that this rather weasly 'probable' and 'entirely possible', issued by a High Court judge, has opened the door for demands for punitive measures to be taken. I feel deeply sorry for Litvinenko's widow and son, but many families here in the UK have suffered over the years with not knowing who killed their loved ones, or worse, suspecting who did but lacking firm proof. Yet they remain dissatisfied, with no High Court judge on their side.
My worry is, how long will it be, now this stable door has been opened, before other convictions are brought (or suggested, like this one) but against UK citizens without firm and incontestable proof?
The irony is that British troops are currently being investigated by legal ambulance chasers for alleged war crimes in Iraq (to the loudly-expressed disgust of politicians - although I feel they won't see the irony, bearing in mind this Litvinenko 'judgment'). In a theatre of war, how firm can evidence be 100% of the time, that a crime was committed, with absolute proof?
Yet I wonder how likely is it now that somebody, somewhere, military or civil, will eventually be convicted on a 'probable' or 'entirely possible' judgement as handed down by the likes of Sir Robert Owen, QC? Because it's an easy way to appease public opinion.
And there will be damn-all we can do about it.