Queensland Government commits to DNA Commission of Inquiry recommendations

Published Monday, 20 November, 2023 at 02:44 PM

Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services and Minister for Women
The Honourable Shannon Fentiman

  • The Queensland Government has today accepted the two recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry to examine DNA Project 13 Concerns
  • Commissioner Dr Annabelle Bennett AC SC provided the final report to the Queensland Government on Friday 17 November
  • Dr Bennett found that there was no evidence that would undermine public confidence in the current work of Forensic Science Queensland.

The Queensland Government has accepted the two recommendations outlined in the final report of the Commission of Inquiry to examine DNA Project 13 Concerns.

The Commission of Inquiry found Project 13, which introduced automated DNA extraction methods to the Queensland Health forensics laboratory, was a ‘fatally flawed’ project, with scientifically sound methodologies sacrificed for speed while the laboratory was under pressure to accelerate DNA processing, when it was introduced more than 16 years ago.

The Inquiry found that Dr Linzi Wilson-Wilde did not draw attention to the deficiencies of Project 13 in a way that conveyed the importance of the fact there were major inadequacies with DNA yield from the extraction process. One consequence of this was the need for the further Inquiry.

However, no evidence was found to support a conclusion that Dr Wilson-Wilde deliberately misled the first Inquiry. And the Inquiry also found, without contradiction, Dr Wilson-Wilde was making good progress on implementing the recommendations from the first inquiry including major changes to culture and work practices.

The recommendations relate to retesting some samples that were previously tested using the flawed Project 13 methodology between 2007 and 2016.

A total of 103,187 casework samples were extracted using the automated DNA extraction method during that period. A single case can have multiple, sometimes hundreds, of samples. The existing ‘legal-led review’ process will determine which cases need their samples retested, and the priority order.

Forensic Science Queensland will lead implementation, with efforts rolled into the existing program of work implementing First Commission of Inquiry recommendations.

Given the findings of both Inquiries, amendments to the rules around the disposal of samples in the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 will be considered by Parliament next week. Currently, samples taken from a suspect in an indictable offence are to be destroyed after a year if proceedings have not been brought against the person in that time.

The amendments will extend that time period to three years to ensure testing can be conducted. Additionally, some historical records which were not destroyed by the laboratory in line with the one-year disposal schedule, will have three years to be reviewed.

A Bill will also be introduced into Parliament next week to give effect to recommendation 121 of the First Commission of Inquiry, to establish the position of Director of Forensic Science Queensland and the supporting Forensic Science Queensland agency.

The interim FSQ and interim Advisory Board was created administratively within Queensland Health following the First Commission of Inquiry. The Bill will allow formal establishment of FSQ within the justice portfolio, which is expected to be in July 2024.

Government will take steps to ensure the laboratory has the resources necessary to fulfill its obligations and restore public confidence in its operations.

To date, the Queensland Government has committed almost $200 million to implementing the 123 recommendations of the Sofronoff Commission of Inquiry.

As a result, already over 70 per cent of these recommendations have been either fully or partially implemented.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services Shannon Fentiman:

“On behalf of the Queensland Government, I thank Commissioner Dr Annabelle Bennett AC SC for the efficient and professional way she conducted the Commission of Inquiry.

“I am also grateful for the witnesses who gave evidence regarding Project 13, its shortcomings, and its impacts.

“It has been clear since the Sofronoff Commission of Inquiry report that the culture, governance and work in the laboratory over the previous 16 years was lacking.

“The Bennett Commission of Inquiry has reinforced that.

“I want Queenslanders to know, we are focussed on the future and re-testing previous samples where required, and the Commission has indicated the laboratory is well placed to do that.

“Queenslanders can be assured the Queensland Government is committed to improving standards, as are the leadership and staff of the laboratory.”

Quotes attributable to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette D’Ath:

“The importance of sound forensic evidence in the administration of criminal justice cannot be understated.

“For a victim of crime and their families, it can be the difference between a perpetrator being brought to justice for their actions, or not.

“A world-class laboratory, committed to scientific excellence, is a fundamental part of our criminal justice system, and I know many victims of crime, and current and former public service staff alike, are eager to see the laboratory ably performing that function again.”

The recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry are:

  1. Subject to Recommendation 2, the Laboratory should conduct a retrospective review of all samples previously tested using the MultiProbe Device between 29 October 2007 and 21 November 2016 to determine if they are capable of being re-tested for the purposes of DNA extraction. Samples that are so capable should be subject to DNA extraction and testing.
  2. The process of that retrospective review and re-testing should be in accordance with that set out in Recommendations 13 and 14 of the First COI.

Further information:

A copy of the Commission of Inquiry’s final report can be found on the Commission’s website.