Science has been heard at the Kathleen Folbigg Inquiry

April 26, 2023
Australian Academy of Science Chief Executive, Anna-Maria Arabia

Australia’s scientists have welcomed a submission by the Inquiry’s assisting lawyers that it is open for the Inquirer, former Chief Justice of NSW Tom Bathurst AC KC, to find reasonable doubt about Kathleen Folbigg’s convictions.

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 submission was made today by the Counsel Assisting the Second Inquiry into Ms Folbigg’s convictions.  

In that submission, Counsel Assisting said that reasonable doubt can be found based on the evidence received by the Inquiry and noted that the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has accepted Counsel Assisting’s submission.

The Australian Academy of Science’s Chief Executive Anna-Maria Arabia said while the Inquiry process must be allowed to fully take its course, she was relieved that science has been heard.

“The Academy is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist this Inquiry as an independent scientific advisor. It demonstrates a role for independent scientific advice in the justice system, particularly where there is complex and emerging science,” Ms Arabia said.

The Inquiry 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 new genetic evidence in this case has now been peer reviewed by scientists and thoroughly tested during this Inquiry and has informed the submission made by Counsel Assisting that reasonable doubt can be found in relation to Ms Folbigg’s convictions,” Ms Arabia said.

“We hope this case opens the door to a more refined consideration of science in the nation’s judicial systems.

“Australia must now start looking ahead to reforms to ensure there are mechanisms for re-examination of cases after appeals have been exhausted, when new scientific evidence is forthcoming,” Ms Arabia said.

The Academy would like to acknowledge the contributions of many of the scientific experts 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.  

The Academy would like to thank the legal team who has assisted the Academy pro bono throughout the Second Inquiry.

In particular, our barristers at Maurice Byers Chambers, Dr Duncan Graham SC, Anna Payten, and Dr Tamsin Waterhouse, and our lawyers at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, Stacey King and Kylie Agland, with special thanks to Dr Waterhouse and Ms King.

The Academy also thanks David Wallace for his wise and ongoing counsel.

© 2023 Australian Academy of Science