Scientists call for law reform following release of final report into Kathleen Folbigg’s convictions

November 08, 2023

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

The Academy is pleased the Commissioner has referred this case to the Court of Criminal Appeal for potential quashing of her convictions.

The Academy’s President, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, said Commissioner Bathurst and Counsel Assisting the Inquiry, Ms Callan SC, Ms Roy and Ms Wootton must be applauded for adopting mechanisms to have science so comprehensively considered throughout the Inquiry.

“Science needs to inform decisions wherever they are made, including in the justice system, and the second Folbigg Inquiry benefited from the Academy being appointed an independent scientific adviser,” said Professor Jagadish.

The Academy is calling for a more science-sensitive legal system in every Australian jurisdiction so that miscarriages of justice are not repeated.

Chief Executive Anna-Maria Arabia said Ms Folbigg’s case demonstrates the need for decisions in the justice system to be routinely informed by reliable evidence especially when it involves understanding complex and emerging science.

“We look forward to working with Attorneys-General across Australia to bring about law reform to create more science-sensitive legal systems,” said Ms Arabia.

The Academy said Ms Folbigg’s case demonstrated the need for law reform in the following three areas:

  1. the adoption of a reliability standard to determine admissibility of evidence
  2. mechanisms for the selection of experts by independent and reliable sources, particularly where complex scientific material is required to inform decision making
  3. the establishment of post appeals review mechanisms, such as a Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The Academy would like to acknowledge the contributions of the many scientific experts from across the world who gave written and oral evidence at the Inquiry.

Media note:

This video explains how science was central in overturning Australia’s greatest miscarriage of justice, and can be used in news reporting or embedded into online news stories.


Background information:

The Academy’s role as an independent scientific adviser to the Second Inquiry into the Convictions of Kathleen Folbigg is believed to be the first time worldwide that a Learned Academy has played such a role in a judicial inquiry.

As an independent scientific adviser to the inquiry, the Academy was able to systematically communicate complex and emerging scientific evidence to a non-specialist audience. This included assisting in the selection of experts so that those from the most relevant scientific disciplines could inform the Inquiry, and identifying the issues experts were qualified to address.

The Academy’s role at the Inquiry offers a unique example to examine approaches that could be used by justice systems in Australia in their consideration, evaluation, and management of scientific evidence and expert witnesses.

Anna-Maria Arabia will be speaking on this topic at an event on 17 November at the Australian National University titled Rethinking Scientific Communication in Courts.

The Australian Academy of Science provides independent, authoritative and influential scientific advice, promotes international scientific engagement, builds public awareness and understanding of science, and champions, celebrates and supports excellence in Australian science.

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