Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Terrorism Case Delays Cause Concern

A Melbourne magistrate has expressed concerned for 13 terrorism suspects, whose trial is being delayed by a wrangle over Legal Aid funding. Victoria Legal Aid is refusing to fund the men's lawyers unless they have security clearances. The lawyers have refused to undergo the checks, saying they do not trust federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock with the information. The Commonwealth says it will only ask for the checks if issues of national security arise during the trial. But Legal Aid says it is not gambling its budget if there could be upheaval ahead and new lawyers may have to be brought into the case. Robert Richter, QC, wants the case to be adjourned for a month for the Commonwealth to offer Victoria Legal Aid indemnity, should there be hurdles.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock
Counsel for the Attorney-General says it is not prepared to write a blank cheque over a situation that may never arise. Isolation concerns Magistrate Paul Smith says an adjournment may achieve nothing. He is concerned there is no end to the stand-off in sight, and does not want the terrorism suspects in custody for a period that cannot be ascertained. The suspects, who are charged with being members of and funding a terrorist organisation, appeared happy to see each other as they arrived in court. However, Mr Richter says the court should not be fooled by their animation. He says the men are sick of being in isolation and need the case to start.