The Truth About Oscar Slater
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Introduction to the case
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, M.D., LL.D.
It is certain that the case of the alien German Jew, who bore the pseudonym of Oscar Slater, will live in the history of criminology as a miscarriage of justice of a character very unusual in the records of our Courts. There have been others, which have been more immediately serious in their results, for innocent men have lost their lives on the scaffold; but such cases, however deplorable, could be excused on the grounds that the circumstantial evidence appeared to be so strong that the mistake could be condoned. But in this case, the error is manifest. It has been pointed out again and again and each successive Scottish Secretary has been appealed to without result. None of them, apparently, has ever gone into the case for himself, which is essential in order that a really independent mind may be brought to
the Chief Constable or the Fiscal be personnally responsible for any miscarriage of justice through the non-disclosure (however unintentional) of material facts in a prisoner's favour.
A writer in the eighteenth century has said "The Law Courts perpetually need reminding that they are not above the public; the public is above them." The reminder is as needful in the twentieth century as in the eighteenth. In the "law courts" we must include the whole machinery of justice. The revelations of the Slater case show that if circumstances should seem to be against them, no man or woman is safe. By a curious chance, even as I write these words, Judge Avory, from the bench, has said: "The evidence is unsatisfactory because witnesses have been shown photographs before identification." If Judge Guthrie had taken the same view, where would the Slater prosecution have been? It is indeed a lamentable story of official blundering from start to finish. But eighteen years have passed and an innocent man still wears the convict's dress.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.