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Report slams DNA ignorance

Report slams DNA ignorance

A report tabled today in the Victorian Parliament calls for greater instruction for practitioners and judges in relation to the use of DNA evidence in criminal cases.The recommendation is one of…

A report tabled today in the Victorian Parliament calls for greater instruction for practitioners and judges in relation to the use of DNA evidence in criminal cases.

The recommendation is one of several contained in the report prepared by retired judge Frank Vincent following the 2006 wrongful conviction of 20-year-old Farah Jama for rape, based on a single piece of DNA evidence which was later found to be contaminated.

The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) said the findings of the report amount to a "damning indictment" on the failure of the criminal justice system, and it has vowed to adopt Vincent's recommendations.

"We are keen to see that no other person is ever wrongfully convicted on the basis of dodgy DNA evidence," said LIV president Steven Stevens.

The LIV will join forces with the Victorian Bar and the Judicial College to provide education about the nature of DNA and its appropriate use for legal professionals involved in cases where DNA evidence is used.

Stevens said Vincent's report was highly critical of the Office of Public Prosecution's files in relation to the Jama case, primarily for their "total absence of any indication that any legal research had been conducted, bearing in mind the circumstances of Jama's case had not previously been encountered in this jurisdiction".

Stevens added that the LIV has long been concerned about a growing reliance on DNA evidence - or the "CSI effect" - used to convict people of crimes, and said that juries often misunderstood DNA evidence.

According to Stevens, the report also found it almost unbelievable that a tiny particle resulted in "the conviction of an individual for a crime that had never been committed by him or anyone else, created immense personal distress for many people and exposed a number of deficiencies in our criminal justice system".

Ironically, the report was released on the same day that DNA testing resulted in the acquittal of a man in the US - after 30 years in prison - who was wrongly convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl on the strength of positive identification by the victim and witnesses.

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