In July nearly 150 asylum seekers were charged after riots caused around 60 million dollars damage to the Australian facility. Since then a number of them have had the charges removed, and it was expected that the trials for the remaining men would begin at the end of November. But a lack of resources and staff has meant the country's Prosecutions office has been unable to prepare its legal brief, and the court has decided to delay a decision on a trial date until mid January. That leave those charged in a legal limbo, as their claims for asylum cannot be processed until the trial is completed. The Resident Magistrate Peter Law says many of them have expresed their disappointment during appearances this week, and while he understands their concerns their is little he can do.
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Nauru resident magistrate Peter Law
LAW: It's in the order of 85 at present. There's been a couple of additions and a couple of subtractions, but that's the current number that face charges, the same charges that were initially laid. And what's taken place is that these matters were in for mention in the last ten days or so and they've been stood over now to January, for a further mention date. The reason being is that the prosecution has not been able to serve the brief, so they've sort further time to do so. The explanation that was provided by the prosecution is that it's a very complex brief, with such a large number of defendants and a very, very large number of witnesses and other evidence which is to be compiled. So given further brief, furthers orders ?? and all the matters have gone over from 13th January through to the 22nd. January, next year, and on that date, as I've explained to each of the asylum seeker defendants, in court, I'm hoping that on those dates they will be able to set trial dates from commencing at sometime in February of March.
COONEY: Has there been response from the defendants, Mr. Law, that will be coming up on 6 or 7 months since they were first charges. Are they accepting of what or what the situation is?
LAW: Well, I can certainly assume from the last few mentions that we've had during the course of these matters, that the asylum seeker defendants are not happy about the process, that has been expressed through translators and raised with the courts. I've patiently taken people, other defendants through the issues. I tried to explain that it is not unusual for trial dates to be set down 6 months after an incident or even 7 or 8 months after an incident, that there are particular issues in this matter which account for its delay. So as much as we'd all like to have the matter dealt with quickly, it just simply has not been able to happen as quickly as we all would have liked.
Equally ?? it was difficult for the asylum seekers, I accept that. I mean they are in difficult living arrangements and most of them, of course, I understand cannot have they're assessments taking place until these matters are resolved. So it's delaying their circumstances as well.
COONEY: Have you had any further commitment or any further word on assistance and help for the judiciary in Nauru. I suppose I'm talking about people who are prepared to provide their services pro bono from Australia and also assistance for the expansion of the court facilities there?
LAW: Well, we have had some ongoing contact with solicitors and barristers in Melbourne who've been extremely helpful. There were was a couple who came over in the August hearing, on the 22nd. August, to that hearing in respect to the riot last year and they've offered their services again. It's certainly very much appreciated.
The government here is in the process of advertising for further positions and legal officers and we're hoping to have some more people on board with the Public Defenders office and the prosecutions.
COONEY: Is it still an issue for you Mr. Law to fit in dealing with the defendants as well as the usual court business that you have to deal with I suppose every other day in Nauru?
LAW: Oh well, certainly it is a juggle and we're just halfway Supreme Court sittings and we only have one court room, so we've had to make arrangements for me to address the asylum seekers and have those matters before the District Court in an earlier sitting. We've started at 9.30 and I've then had to have matters resolved before the Supreme Courts commencing on each and every other day.