Fight for fair trial for Melbourne 13

March 23, 2007

Lawyers acting for 12 of the "Melbourne 13", a group of Muslim men who have been held in Barwon's Maximum Security Prison for more than a year, argued on March 20 that the possibility of a fair trial had been jeopardised and applied for a stay in proceedings.

The court heard that the men have been held in harsher conditions than prisoners in maximum security, despite being on remand and therefore presumed innocent. These conditions include having to wear orange jumpsuits; being locked up for 18 hours a day; only being allowed a one hour non-contact visit a week; not being allowed to pray together; and being denied basic medical treatment. The lawyers also cited a lack of proper access to some prosecution documents relating to the trial, and harsh court security provisions.

The 13 men, arrested in November 2005 and March 2006, are charged with belonging to, and funding, an unnamed terrorist organisation. What is less known is that the men have been deemed to be the terrorist organisation. They have not been charged with planning a specific terrorist act.

On the hearing's second day, Corrections Victoria considered making some concessions, including changing visitation rights, increasing out-of-cell time, and possibly transferring the prisoners to Melbourne Remand Centre during the trial. Currently, the men travel for around five hours in a police van to appear at court and, once there, have to sit behind a perspex sheet surrounded by 16 prison guards, making it hard for them to instruct their lawyers. The legal team wants the security arrangements changed for the men's criminal trial, scheduled for July.

Prison services director Roderick Wise has conceded that the men's remand conditions were harsher than those of convicted criminals, but argued allowing them access to education and group activities was a security risk. Lawyers for the prisoners told the court that the harsh security measures would create "a very prejudicial image to the jury". On March 21, the stay in proceedings hearing was adjourned until at least May.

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