Thursday, October 13, 2005


This time in Australia

"Under-resourcing and bad management at Brisbane's John Tonge Centre have contributed to a case backlog that will take millions of dollars and more than a year to fix, a damning report has found. Queensland's leading science centre will now be overhauled at a cost of $6.3 million this year after the report revealed it was failing to address a mounting backlog of DNA testing for criminal cases. Managing the changes identified in 65 recommendations will cost a further $2.4 million each year and possibly more as further reforms are decided.

Investigations found staff were forced to breathe in foul odours, more than 100 skeletons remained unidentified, while hundreds of specimens taken from autopsies were being stored in a refrigerated shipping container in the car park.

In March The Courier-Mail revealed major flaws in DNA testing procedures at the John Tonge Centre, which cast doubt over the reliability of evidence in hundreds of criminal cases. At the time the State Government accused the newspaper of a beat-up, but within days then health minister Gordon Nuttall was forced to order the inquiry.

Premier Peter Beattie yesterday released the report while unveiling reforms which included hiring extra scientists to help reduce the backlog, introducing a fee-per-service, restructuring led by a new director and accelerating testing of drug labs. Mr Beattie said the Government would also investigate changing drug laws to speed up prosecution of illegal drug producers. "If we say that possession of certain equipment and other chemicals in itself is another offence, I think we'll take pressure off the testings as well," he said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the extra funding meant the backlog of cases could now be cleared by the end of next year, 18 months later than was initially promised. According to the report, the backlog in major and property crime cases was 12,056 compared to 9359 cases the previous year.

Liberal leader Bob Quinn accused the Government of dragging its heels over problems at the centre. "Police prosecutors and defence counsels have been complaining about delays for years, but nothing was done to address their concerns," he said.

Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg said the Government had promised to fix problems at the John Tonge Centre no fewer than six times. "There's been miscarriages of justice because of this Government's failure to act," he said. "Every time we've raised problems, they have said they're fixing it. We hope this time is different."

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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