An extraordinary ruling indeed. “Judge eases jail for terror trial 12,” from AAP (thanks to Sr. Soph):
THE 12 defendants in Australia’s largest terrorism prosecution are not getting a fair trial, the judge overseeing the case has admitted.
The startling admission came as Justice Bernard Bongiorno said the conditions under which the accused are being held are so severe they could cause mental illness and jeopardise their ability to defend themselves.
In a ruling he described as “extraordinary”, Justice Bongiorno ordered the men be moved to a new prison and called for their conditions to be upgraded.
The 12 accused went on trial in Melbourne last month charged with being members of a terrorist organisation and other terror-related offences.
The trial is expected to continue until at least the end of the year, but Justice Bongiorno ordered it not resume until the men’s conditions are improved.
He warned if their conditions were not improved, he would consider releasing them on bail.
Justice Bongiorno ordered the sweeping changes after hearing medical evidence from four psychiatrists supporting the men’s claims that they could not get a fair trial if the severe conditions of their incarceration continued.
“I am satisfied that the evidence before the court establishes that the accused in this case are currently being subjected to an unfair trial,” Justice Bongiorno said.
But he added they had not been disadvantaged so far, saying the impact of the conditions would be cumulative.
It is the first time a Victorian judge has ordered that conditions for prisoners be changed.
In his ruling, Justice Bongiorno accepted the 12 men were already suffering psychiatric problems that had affected their ability to follow proceedings.
A continuation of the treatment was likely to affect their ability to defend themselves, he said.
The men have been held in the high security Acacia wing of Barwon Prison, near Geelong, since their arrest two years ago.
To attend court they must travel for up to two hours to Melbourne each day, and two hours back, shackled and handcuffed in small compartments in a prison van.
They are strip-searched when they leave Barwon and again when they return and have little time outside their cells.
Justice Bongiorno ordered the men be transferred from Barwon to the Metropolitan Assessment Prison in central Melbourne, that they be transported directly from there to court each day and that they be allowed out of their cells for 10 hours each day when not in court.
The judge also ordered that they not be shackled or subjected to any other restraining devices other than ordinary handcuffs while being transported.
He said they should not be strip-searched after returning from court and that they be treated as ordinary remand prisoners….
The trial has been told the 12 intended to undertake “violent jihad” in Australia and had formed a terror cell.
They had discussed killing then prime minister John Howard and had identified railway stations and football grounds as likely targets….