The Guardian • Issue #2057

Folbigg case highlights need for case review commission

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2057
Legal Gavel & Open Law Book

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Australia needs an independent body with powers to investigate claims of wrongful conviction, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“An independent dedicated body, like those that exist in New Zealand and the UK, to investigate criminal cases where people maintain they have been wrongfully convicted would provide a valuable safeguard against terrible miscarriages of justice, and could help prevent another case like Kathleen Folbigg,” said Greg Barns SC, criminal justice spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

“Once someone is convicted, our current system of criminal appeals makes it very difficult for a person to challenge their conviction, even when new evidence comes to light.

“An independent body that has the freedom and the power to thoroughly investigate would take the responsibility for appeals away from the convicted person and their friends and family, and provide an important protection against wrongful convictions.”

In New Zealand the Criminal Cases Review Commission assesses applications and will undertake a full investigation if it thinks there are doubts about the conviction. The case is then referred back to an appeal court. In the UK, the Criminal Cases Appeal Commission comprises twelve independent experts who review disputed criminal cases and send them back to the appeals court if there is reason to do so.

“The Commission works in their own timeframe rather than at the pace of the courtroom and has access to a range of specialists and scientists who can be drawn on to examine evidence,” said Barns SC. “If introduced in Australia a body like this could report back to the court and a judge would determine whether to set aside a conviction.

“We understand that the NSW Attorney General Michael Daley has said that he is open to considering legal changes that are required to avoid a situation like Kathleen Folbigg’s in the future. An independent criminal case review body would be an effective way to help prevent this terrible situation occurring again.”

6th June 2023.

Kathleen Folbigg is an Australian woman convicted in 2003 for killing her four infant children. She was pardoned twenty years later due to serious doubts about her guilt.

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