Top CSI scientist says police ignoring evidence flaws, jailing innocent
“They are very resistant to change,” he said. “When it comes to fingerprints, they are most often right. But it is the other stuff – like analysing foot marks, tool marks, ballistics, there is no real evidence-based science around what they are doing.
“It is purely opinion based on ‘I’ve done a thousand of these, you should believe me’.”
The institute’s director Professor Noel Woodford said the issues about forensic science’s reliability were well known in the field.
“When this evidence is presented to courts the limitations of the science are clearly articulated so that they can appreciate the extent to which the evidence can support the proposed allegations,” he said.
Flaws in forensics were thrust into the spotlight on Monday after an extraordinary intervention by Justice Chris Maxwell, president of the Victorian Court of Appeal, who told The Age he no longer had confidence forensic science was accurate.
“With the exception of DNA, no other area of forensic science has been shown to be able reliably to connect a particular sample with a particular crime scene or perpetrator,” he said.
He called on governments around Australia to urgently change the law, so that judges had to consider the reliability of forensic evidence before it was shown to juries.
Victoria Police forensics executive director Dr Rebecca Kogios said she was “confident that our processes are robust and provide significant value to the criminal justice system”.
She said “a number of studies” formed the evidence base for forensics, and more research was being done.
“Our experts are aware of, and account for, limitations in the science in the way opinions are provided to the courts.”
Other senior legal figures have called for a wholesale inquiry into forensic science but Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy has resisted the mounting pressure.
On Tuesday her spokesman referred The Age to a statement from last week: “Victoria’s justice system has laws and processes in place that govern the quality and reliability of forensic evidence presented in court”.
Speaking after Justice Maxwell’s remarks were published, criminal defence lawyer Bill Doogue said there was “a lot of junk science around”.
“There are things that are just known not to be real,” he said.
“You put [forensic evidence] in front of a jury,” said Mr Doogue, “and they will think it’s real.”
Leading Sydney-based criminal defence lawyer Phillip Gibson called for an inquiry into “so-called scientific evidence”.
“We have accepted a lot of so-called scientific processes and procedures as evidence, that don’t have a test of reliability,” he said.
Victorian Shadow Attorney-General Edward O’Donohue said “when concerns such as these are raised by one of Victoria’s most senior judges, they need to be examined and considered”.
Dr Celine Van Golde, director of the University of Sydney’s Exoneration Project which reinvestigates miscarriages of justice, said Justice Maxwell’s comments about the reliability of forensic science could lead to more appeals against sentences.
“We know forensic sciences have caused lots of wrongful convictions. Within Australia there are multiple wrongful convictions that have been caused by forensic evidence – Lindy Chamberlain, Henry Keogh,” she said.
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter