Julian Barnes, Sherlock Holmes, and A Miscarriage of Justice

Yesterday, the British writer, Julian Barnes, won the 2011 prestigious Man Booker Prize. I have read many of his books, some of which are particularly clever, such as The History of the World in 10 and A Half Chapters, with one chapter dedicated to a discussion of Theodore Gericault's 1819 painting of the aftermath of a shipwreck in The Raft of the Medusa.

Barnes also recently wrote a book simply entitled Arthur & George. This book fictionalizes the real-life relationship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and a unassuming solicitor named George Edalji. This semi-fictional account juxtaposes the lives of these two men in the backdrop of one of England's infamous cases of injustice. Edalji, of Indian ethnicity, was wrongly accused and convicted of mutilating cattle and sending poisonous letters in support of the crime. He was sentenced to seven years of hard labour and disbarred until Conan Doyle "took up his case" in a purely Holmesian manner, and managed to clear Edalji's name and restore his law society membership.

This case reminds us that one miscarriage of justice is one too many. In Canada, where such miscarriages have been revealed, not by celebrity writers, but by hard-working individuals, committed lawyers, and dedicated associations, we must be watchful and protective of justice and the repercussions of injustice. 

On September 15, 2011, the Canadian Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) Heads of Prosecutions Committee on the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice released an update to their 2005 Report. The original Report is large in scope and contains many recommendations. It tackles a broad range of issues, including systemic injustices caused by Crown/Police tunnel vision. This update, entitled The Path to Justice: Preventing Wrongful Convictions, reviews prosecutorial practices and makes further recommendations. Interestingly, the update starts with a quote from another British writer of justice, Charles Dickens, in his book The Mystery of Edwin Drood:

Circumstances may accumulate so strongly even against an innocent man, that directed, sharpened, and pointed, they may slay him.

Barnes, Conan Doyle, and Dickens reminds us, in a literary and engaging way, of the importance of justice in our legal system. It is up to us, however, to translate these works into reality.This requires, as stated in the FPT Update, "continued vigilance."