Science “heard”, experts “heartened”: Academy

The Australian Academy of Science has welcomed suggestions that research led by one of its fellows could cast reasonable doubt over Kathleen Folbigg’s convictions.

In 2021, the Academy called for Folbigg to be pardoned following the publication of research into a potentially pathogenic genetic variant possessed by two of Folbigg’s daughters. This was proposed as an explanation for their deaths.

Inquiry hears expert evidence suggests reasonable doubt over Folbigg convictions

Speaking outside the Chief Secretary’s Building in Sydney, where the hearing is in its final days, Academy representatives welcomed the view by counsel assisting the inquiry that evidence presented by experts casts a reasonable doubt over Folbigg’s convictions.

“This [inquiry] is again a great indication for the importance of science in society, and how it can play an important role in a wide variety of fields, including the justice system,” Academy president Professor Chennupati Jagadish said.

Australian academy of science president professor chennupati jagadish speaks to media outside the folbigg inquiry, flanked by (l-r) former president professor john shine and academy chief executive anna-maria arabia. Credit: cosmos magazine.
Australian Academy of Science president Professor Chennupati Jagadish speaks to media outside the Folbigg inquiry, flanked by (L-R) former president Professor John Shine and Academy chief executive Anna-Maria Arabia. Credit: Cosmos Magazine.

Academy CEO Anna-Maria Arabia indicated scientists involved in the case – such as academy fellow Professor Carola Vinuesa, who led the research into the Folbigg calmodulin variants – have expressed positive views in light of the process.

What is calmodulin?

“We’re in constant dialogue with the fellows of the Academy of Science, in particular those who have been involved [in the research] have felt heartened by the way science has been heard in this case,” Arabia said.

The Academy, and others, hope this second inquiry into Folbigg’s convictions will lead to law reform to enable reconsideration of convictions when compelling new evidence comes to light.

Can justice keep up with science?

Arabia told reporters a criminal case review commission would support science being heard within the justice system after appeals processes have been exhausted, as with the Folbigg case. The Academy is also seeking an independent process to support selection of [scientific] experts “right at the beginning of cases”.  

Following closing submissions, inquiry head Tom Bathurst KC will prepare a final report based on evidence and remarks presented to him since November last year. That report is expected to be released in the coming months.

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