THE STEINHEIL TRIAL.
[TO T1111 EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."]
Sin,—I have only just seen your number of November 20th, and the article on "French and English Trials" which it contains. In that article you quote some just remarks by
Mr. Storry Deans on the evils of the interrogatoire secret. It should, however, be said that the secret interrogatory, as it existed during the trials with which Mr. Deans's book is con- cerned, has for the last ten or twelve years ceased to form a part of French judicial procedure. Every one who chooses may provide himself with counsel, who is present during the interrogatory. I believe, moreover, that among the public in England a misconception is prevalent touching this inter- rogatory by the Juge d'Instruction. It is thought of as a sort of inquisition of a "prisoner," and nothing else. In England the " case " against any suspected person is got up by the police, and in its initial stages the public hears nothing of it. In France the interrogatories of the Inge d'Instruction are the getting up of the case. He has a right to summon (inviter) all and sundry to his office ; and in many cases he has at the outset no theory as to who is the guilty person. In other ,cases (Madame Steinheil's case was one) certain among the individuals " invited " to explain themselves to this examining Magistrate must know that a degree of suspicion attaches to them from the outset. Such would naturally come accom- panied by counsel. While there is a third category (e.g., a stranger discovered on premises which had been "burgled") who would be " prisoners " from the outset. It is only in this last case that the action of the Magistrate (it seems to me) can fairly be called inquisitorial. The most interesting feature of the Steinheil trial was missed by many of the English reporters and by (I believe) most of those who wrote articles on the case. It was that a tolerably .strong chain of circumstantial evidence was brought to light which tended to confirm the story which Madame Steinheil .originally told of the "burglary,"—the story, as it was commonly called, of the levites (black gowns or cassocks). Now it was the printil-facie improbability of this tale which weighed hardest on Madame Steinheil's reputation, and pre- vented her friends from accepting the "classification "—i.e., abandonment of the case—as enough to exonerate her. And it was (we may reasonably believe) the sense that suspicion still weighed on her which induced Madame Steinheil to invent in succession two other accounts, and to use the monstrous expedient of putting a jewel in the portfolio of her man-servant, Remy Couillard. It is a warning to those who have (as Maitre Aubin confessed was true of his client) le mensonge facile. It is impossible to pity one who, to set herself right with her friends, adopted the horrible plan of trying to incriminate an innocent person. But that the verdict of acquittal was on all counts justified I have myself