Inquiry Reveals Serious Failures in Queensland Forensic DNA Lab

Inquiry Reveals Serious Failures in Queensland Forensic DNA Lab

Queensland’s forensic DNA lab has been in the controversies regarding its testing procedures since few past months. The former president of the Court of Appeal Walter Sofronoff, directed a commission of inquiry for the lab by saying that the lab has persistent major issues.

The inquiry was announced after concerns were raised by the Queensland police regarding the working environment of the lab and they requested further testing on some samples where the Queensland Health Forensic and Scientific Services lab (QHFSS) had reported insufficient DNA for further processing.

In 2018, a decision regarding DNA testing was made stating that the testing of DNA samples below a certain threshold should be stopped and classified them as having “insufficient DNA”. This classification also included the samples that were related to major crimes, such as rapes and murders.

The report released by the commission says that the forensic DNA lab has some “serious” failures caused by a series of factors including mismanagement and dishonesty by senior managers.

According to Mr Sofronoff, the impacts of these failures included a reduced prospect of conviction by a failure to obtain evidence. The failings are serious as the laboratory serves the criminal justice system.

One of the most horrible revelations states that before the commission of inquiry was announced in late 2021, the lab’s managing scientist Cathie Allen fed the health department and in-turn the premier and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath “misleading information”. She was suspended from her job after an interim report from the inquiry was released in September.

He said that the failure to obtain all of the evidence available from samples has affected some cases. But it was unlikely that the failures could have resulted in a wrong conviction.

Talking about the reasons for the failures, Mr Sofronoff said that there are a number of different factors contributed to the manifold of failures including- mismanagement, cultural issues and the fact that this forensic DNA lab falls under the Department of Health.

In the report he provided 123 recommendations including that the Queensland Health appoint a chief executive officer, who is eminent in the field of forensic DNA analysis and can lead reform work for the laboratory.

He also recommended that the health minister and attorney-general should ensure that sufficient funding is provided to the relevant agencies for the implementation of the recommendations and the of confidence in the criminal justice system can be restored rapidly.

One of the recommendations states that some major crime cases and sexual assault cases dating back as far as 2008 should be reviewed to see if samples are needed to be retested, as this can impact thousands of cases.

His three important recommendations regarding reviewing of the major crimes includes the cases that has a sample or samples reported as “DNA insufficient for further processing” since 2018. The cases (including cold cases) received by the lab since January 2012 which were not provided with any holistic case management; the sexual assault cases processed by the laboratory from 1st January 2008, to 8th August 2016, where sperm was not identified on the evidence recovery slide for a sample and no further testing was performed by the lab.

He recommended that the samples would be retested in Queensland but testing work could be contracted out to other labs in Australia and New Zealand to help with the caseload. The Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed that her government would consider the recommendations in the report.

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