‘Masterful and thorough research’ by Academy Fellow led to Kathleen Folbigg pardon

October 19, 2023
A discovery by Academy Fellow Professor Carola Vinuesa FAA FRS and colleagues led to the establishment of the second Inquiry into Kathleen Folbigg's convictions.

The role of science in overturning one of Australia’s biggest miscarriages of justice has featured in a national TV documentary broadcast to more than half a million Australians.

The exclusive Channel Seven Spotlight program featured the breakthrough research of Academy Fellow Professor Carola Vinuesa FAA FRS, who is now based at the Francis Crick Institute in the United Kingdom.

Her discoveries with 26 co-authors, published in leading international medical journal Europace in 2021, led to the establishment of a second Inquiry into the convictions of Ms Kathleen Folbigg.

That Inquiry found reasonable doubt regarding the convictions, which saw Ms Folbigg unconditionally pardoned in June this year.

The Spotlight program was Ms Folbigg’s first interview since her release from jail. It detailed her visit to the Shine Dome and the ANU’s John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra, where Ms Folbigg met some of the scientists behind the research.

The Spotlight program also published additional interviews online with former Academy President, Professor John Shine and current Academy Chief Executive, Anna-Maria Arabia.

The interviews delved into the science and explored why the Academy backed the petition that called for Ms Folbigg’s pardon.

In his interview with guest host Natalie Barr, Professor Shine said Professor Vinuesa’s work was masterful and thorough.

“She took advantage of the latest sequencing technologies, taking DNA from the deceased children, looking for unknown mutations that might cause cardiac death,” Professor Shine said.

Those mutations were explored in detail at the second Inquiry.

In her interview with Spotlight, Ms Arabia said the case illustrated how science and the justice system can engage more effectively.

“We know this case will lead to reform in the justice system,” Ms Arabia said.

This case has implications for law reform in the following areas:

1. The adoption of a reliability standard as applied to the admissibility of expert opinion

2. Mechanisms for the selection of experts by independent and reliable sources, particularly where complex scientific material is required to inform decision-making

3. Establishment of post appeals review mechanisms, such as a Criminal Cases Review Commission.

— Australian Academy of Science (@Science_Academy) October 16, 2023

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