Address by Robert Richter QC at the Australian Academy of Forensic Science (Victorian Chapter) on 3 December 2015
Have just returned from Melbourne. I attended the plenary address by Robert Richter QC at the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Academy of Forensic Science at the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre at Victoria University on Thursday evening, 3 December 2015. (I am a member of the NSW Chapter - there is currently no chapter in Tasmania). The event was attended by around 60 people including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, forensic scientists, forensic pathologists, academics and staff of the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS). There were also interstate forensic science representatives present as there was a NIFS meeting on the following day.
The title of Robert's talk was "Science and Medicine in the Courtroom; A Defence Barrister's Perspective". Robert told some great war stories about cases that he had dealt with (including one where he was able to prove that a machine gun seized by police from bikie gang members was not the same as the machine gun in the photo that they had presented to the court. He achieved this by using photogrammetry experts to show that the barrel on the gun photographed varied by 10mm in measurement. His clients were acquitted. It later emerged that police had seized two machine guns but only declared one and had provided the wrong photo of the gun produced as an exhibit). He also gave advice on his view on defence strategy and the importance of dealing with Crown expert witnesses effectively. He indicated that you had already lost your case if it was necessary to call independent expert witnesses on forensic issues. Preparation and consultation was important as was learning key aspects of the specific science involved to enable understanding and appropriate questioning.
At question time, he also commented on the adversarial system versus the inquisitorial system in relation to the prevention of miscarriages of justice and believed that the inquisitorial system had its own issues. He commented on the very significant resource imbalance between the Crown and the accused person and that there was no equality of forces.
Robert spoke on the further right to appeal legislation and the "drowning" in the bath case of Keogh in South Australia. He outlined some of the fresh and compelling evidence which concerned the later detection of haemosiderin in the critical bruising said to have been observed by the forensic pathologist and regarded at the trial as related to the death.
He referred to and commended the work of Dr Bob Moles in the miscarriage of justice area and referred to his recent paper to the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology conference. Robert also mentioned the Eastman case in the ACT and the flawed forensic science in relation to the gunshot residue. He also raised the Sue Neill-Fraser case here in Tasmania.
Robert spoke about DNA evidence and the danger and ease of planting someone else's DNA at a crime scene, which is an issue of concern.
The talk was very well received and there was a chance for invaluable networking after the meeting.
I also took the opportunity to do filming with psychologist and film-maker Eve Ash on miscarriage of justice issues whilst in Melbourne. Eve and I also met with Mr John Walsh from the Bridge of Hope Innocence initiative being run by RMIT.