FOUR babies died, a Hunter mother was convicted of their killings and the community was rightly shocked, angered and saddened by the loss of those innocent, vulnerable lives.
It has been 14 years since Kathleen Folbigg was sentenced to 30 years’ jail for the crimes that horrified not only the Hunter, but the nation. There the matter would have ended, with a mother paying the penalty for the worst crimes imaginable.
But like another case involving a Hunter mother and the death of her baby – Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction for the murder of baby daughter Azaria – there have been questions about the Folbigg convictions for some time, and from credible quarters.
It has been nearly two years since Newcastle University Legal Centre and three Newcastle barristers lodged a petition with NSW Governor David Hurley seeking a judicial review in the Folbigg case, and nearly four months since it has been with Attorney General Mark Speakman.
Supporters of a review believe it is not unreasonable to ask for a decision based on the strength of material before the Attorney General, and the number of years Folbigg has already served.
Folbigg was convicted of killing her four babies after a jury was convinced of the Crown case beyond reasonable doubt. But just one report in the petition for a review – that of respected Australian forensic pathologist Professor Stephen Cordner – raises significant doubt about those convictions.
Professor Cordner found there was no pathological or medical basis for concluding homicide in any of the Folbigg baby deaths, which raises serious questions about how their mother came to be convicted of murdering three of her babies, and the manslaughter of a fourth.
A second report by a British expert directly contradicts what the jury was told – that were no reported cases in the world of four babies in one family dying of sudden infant death syndrome.
Our judicial system relies on convictions only after the Crown meets a high standard – proving a case beyond reasonable doubt. But when there is reasonable doubt about convictions, it also provides for a judicial review.
The community needs to have faith in a justice system that can accommodate an extraordinary response to an extraordinary set of circumstances. That response needs to be made in a timely fashion.