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Former COA president to head DNA testing inquiry

Recently retired Court of Appeal President Walter Sofronoff has been appointed to head a commission of inquiry into DNA testing at the Queensland Government-run Forensic and Scientific Services.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today announced that the former Supreme Court judge had been selected to run the inquiry in a bid to restore public confidence in DNA testing in criminal matters.

She said the inquiry’s terms of reference would be determined in consultation with Commissioner Sofronoff and would include:

  • assessing if systems and processes in place for DNA testing at government laboratories were reliable, conducted at an acceptable standard and achieved quality reporting of results and matching
  • establish if testing adhered to contemporary best practice
  • ensuring adequate external quality assurance and accreditation was in place and sample management.

Ms Palaszczuk said Commissioner Sofronoff would also be charged with examining the number of cases and date range necessary to satisfy the terms of reference.

“The people of this state must have confidence in the reliability of these results,” she said. “Concerns have been raised and this had led to the establishment of the independent review.

“But the additional information put forward by Queensland police elevate the seriousness of those concerns, prompting the need for the commission of inquiry.

“The Commission will receive submissions and hold public and private hearings in a manner the Commissioner sees fit.

The now former Justice Sofronoff’s appointment comes two weeks after he stepped down as head of the state’s highest court.

Considered one of Australia’s leading legal minds, Mr Sofronoff’s stellar legal career has already spanned 45 years – including five years as Court of Appeal President, a stint as the Queensland Solicitor General, as Commissioner of the Grantham Floods Inquiry in 2015 and the 2016 review of the state’s parole system.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the proposed inquiry would ensure the community could have confidence in our forensic services.

“I welcome the fullest and most careful open and independent inquiry,” Ms D’Ath said.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the community would be well-served by the appointment.

“DNA is such a vital part of our criminal justice system,” Ms Fentiman said. “I look forward to the results of this inquiry.”

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