Science central in overturning Australia’s greatest miscarriage of justice

June 05, 2023


The Australian Academy of Science welcomes today’s finding by former Chief Justice of NSW Tom Bathurst AC KC of reasonable doubt regarding the convictions of Kathleen Folbigg.

Commissioner Bathurst’s findings have enabled the NSW Attorney General Michael Daley to recommend to the NSW Governor that Kathleen Folbigg be unconditionally pardoned.

The Australian Academy of Science, which acted as an independent scientific adviser to the Second Folbigg Inquiry, applauds the NSW justice system for having so comprehensively heard science.

Academy President Professor Chennupati Jagadish said, “I am relieved that an unconditional pardon to Kathleen Folbigg has been granted and that science has been heard.”

The representative of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) at the Inquiry noted the importance of ensuring that new scientific evidence received by the Inquiry was obtained from independent and reliable sources.

The NSW Attorney General also noted that it is appropriate that NSW have the mechanisms to re-consider these matters in the light of new evidence.

The question must now be asked: how do we create a system where complex and emerging science can inform the justice system more readily?

Academy Chief Executive Anna-Maria Arabia said the Academy looks forward to working with the NSW Attorney General to develop and implement a more science-sensitive legal system so that a miscarriage of justice of this magnitude never be repeated.

“This case has implications for the justice systems of every Australian state and territory,” Ms Arabia said.

“There is a critical role for independent scientific advice in the justice system, particularly where there is complex and emerging science.”

Ms Folbigg was convicted in 2003 of the murder of three of her children, infliction of grievous bodily harm on one child and the manslaughter of her first born.

The Second Inquiry into Ms Folbigg’s convictions is believed to be one of the first times worldwide that a learned academy has acted as an independent scientific adviser during a public inquiry into an individual’s criminal convictions.

The Academy would like to acknowledge the contributions of many of the scientific experts from across the world who were called to give evidence at the Inquiry.

In particular, we would like to acknowledge Academy Fellow Professor Carola Vinuesa FAA FRS. Her research with 26 co-authors, in a leading international medical journal, led to the establishment of this Second Inquiry.

More information

Read a transcript of a press conference given by Professor Jagadish and Ms Arabia in response to the pardon of Kathleen Folbigg.

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