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Law Week: The Rights and Wrongs of Forensics

May 20 @ 6:30 pm 7:45 pm

Sisters in Crime Australia is again proud to join forces with the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Victoria University, to present its 16th Law Week event.

An expert panel – Soren Blau, Tracie Gould, and Liz Porter will debate with chair Coroner Audrey Jamieson as to what makes forensic science work and what can sometimes make it go wrong.

The practice of forensic science in Australia was radically reformed after the well-publicised failures of the Azaria Chamberlain case. Now forensic science nearly always gets it right thanks to high training standards, the continuing evolvement of evidence-based specialties such as forensic anthropology, forensic odontology, and DNA, and improved collaboration between the scientists and police.

But forensic investigations can sometimes be flawed. Evidence from crime scenes can be contaminated. There can be too much reliance on one discipline. Forensic experts can go ‘too far’. The approaches and standards between the different states and territories can also vary.

Soren Blau is the Manager of Identification Services and Senior Forensic Anthropologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM). Soren has participated in the recovery and analysis of human remains from archaeological and forensic contexts in Australia and overseas for the past 20 years and has undertaken consultancies for the International Criminal Court, Justice Rapid Response, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Some of Soren’s major investigations include Peter Falconio (2008); Pentridge (2008, 2009 – Identification of Ned Kelly, 2011), Victorian Bushfires (2009); the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre (Timor-Leste, 2009-2011); and Truth and Reconciliation work (Solomon Islands, 2011). She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2021. The lockdown meant Soren could catch up with Silent Witness and Nordic Noir shows such as The Bridge and Trapped.

Tracie Gould is the Group Manager of the Fingerprint Sciences Group at the Victoria Police Forensic Service Department, leading the delivery of integrated, connected, and responsive fingerprint and facial identification services for the state of Victoria, Australia. Her pathway to this role has not been linear. Tracie started her career in forensic science as an illicit drug and clandestine laboratory expert before moving to the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency, National Institute of Forensic Science. Tracie has attended scenes of active drug manufacture, provided evidence in court internationally, and delivered national projects focused on the advancement of forensic science to enhance the prevention and resolution of crime for the Australian community. Her favourite TV crime show is Bones, loosely based on the novels of Kathy Reichs.

Liz Porter is a former award-winning legal affairs journalist who is now known for her prize-winning books about ‘the real CSI’ — the way forensic science is used to solve crime. She is now doing her PhD on the work of the scientists at the Victoria Police forensic lab. Her forensic-themed books include Crime Scene Asia: when forensic evidence becomes the silent witness; Written on the Skin: an Australian forensic casebook (joint winner of the 2007 Ned Kelly award for the best true crime book), and Cold Case Files, winner of Australian Sisters in Crime’s 2012 Davitt award for best true crime book. She is an open water swimmer, a member of a pop music choir, a mad Saints fan, and the author of one novel, Unnatural Order.

Her favourite TV show is a one-off – Code of a Killer, a British police drama television series that tells the true story of Alec Jeffreys‘ discovery of DNA fingerprinting and its use by Detective David Baker in catching the double murderer, Colin Pitchfork.

Coroner Audrey Jamieson was appointed a magistrate in 2004 and has worked as a full-time Coroner since 2005. Unusually, she started out her career as a nurse and later entered the legal profession after completing her degrees at Monash University. Audrey became a partner at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and an accredited specialist with the Law Institute of Victoria in personal injury litigation. She regularly meets with the scientific members of the VIFM to discuss matters germane to her investigations into reportable deaths. Audrey is the State Coroners’ Representative on the Ethics Committee at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and a member of the Coroners’ Court of Victoria Research Advisory Committee. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime. Her favourite crime TV shows, Vera and Shetland, are based on Ann Cleeves’s books.

Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Victoria University, Queen Street Campus, Lecture Theatre G02, 295 Queen Street, Melbourne.

TICKETS. $20 non-members; $15 concession; $12 Sisters in Crime and Writers Victoria members, $10 (under 19). Any seats left will be available at the door for $22/$18/$15/$10 . Men or ‘brothers-in-law’ welcome. Please book by 2pm Friday 20 May.