Terror trial resumes as ‘intolerable’ jail conditions improved

TWELVE Melbourne men accused of terrorism will be housed at a lower-security prison after a judge said they were being kept in intolerable conditions.
The trial of Abdul Nacer Benbrika and 11 other Melbourne Muslims will continue now that Justice Bernard Bongiorno received two affidavits by his deadline of noon yesterday confirming that the changes would be made immediately.
Justice Bongiorno said Penelope Armytage, the secretary of the Justice Department, and Kelvin Anderson, the correctional services commissioner, had confirmed the changes in affidavits that regrettably contained “lengthy . . . and irrelevant detail”.
On March 20, Justice Bongiorno had said he would stop the trial and consider bailing the accused if the department did not improve their “intolerable” jail and transport conditions.
The men were living in the high-security Acacia Unit at Barwon Prison near Geelong and being transported in shackles in an armoured van to Melbourne twice a day to make court appearances.
Two of the men were recently removed from Barwon and were diagnosed with psychiatric problems.
Justice Bongiorno had said that the men should be housed at the Metropolitan Assessment Prison in the city for the rest of the trial; they should not be shackled or subjected to any restraints other than normal handcuffs; and they should not be strip-searched in any situation where they had been under constant supervision in secure areas.
He wanted them to be allowed out of their cells for at least 10 hours on non-court days and said they should not be subjected to conditions any more onerous than those imposed on ordinary remand prisoners.
The men have all pleaded not guilty to charges involving fostering a terrorist act in the pursuit of violent jihad.
A lawyer for one of the accused yesterday told the judge that his client, who was grateful for the changes that have taken place, was nevertheless “carrying a scar today from banging his head against the door on Saturday night because of the lack of air in the new cells”.
“There might be some . . . teething problems that need to be worked through,” the lawyer said.
Justice Bongiorno said he hoped such issues could be ironed out through continuing talks with the lawyer for Corrections Victoria.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr Alexandra Welborn told the court that the two accused who had previously been moved out of Barwon because of psychiatric problems were examined yesterday morning and found fit to continue with the trial, which resumes today.

First published in The Age.