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Prisoner sues over 2½-year wait for trial

The imprisonment of a man for 2½ years while he awaits trial on a drugs charge is unconstitutional, a lawyer told Supreme Court yesterday.

Mark Pettingill, who appeared for plaintiff Dennis Robinson, told the Supreme Court that Mr Robinson's fundamental rights had been violated.

He added that Mr Robinson had “been in custody waiting to be tried for longer than he would have been if he was convicted of the offence with which he has been charged”.

Mr Pettingill was speaking at a constitutional challenge launched by Mr Robinson and Rebecca Wallington.

The two were arrested on November 15, 2016 and charged with possession of 418.7 grams of cannabis with intent to supply.

Ms Wallington was also charged with possession of 4.93 grams of cannabis.

She pleaded not guilty to both charges and was released on bail.

Ms Wallington is represented by Victoria Greening.

Mr Pettingill said there had been an “absolute failure in regards to the constitutional provision for a fair trial in a reasonable time”.

He added that Mr Robinson had been behind bars for as much time as he would have got if he had admitted the offence.

Mr Robinson pleaded not guilty to the charge in February 2017 and the pair's trial started in May 2018.

However, magistrate Archibald Warner, after the conclusion of the trial last October, announced that he had a conflict of interest and was forced to excuse himself, which meant no verdict was delivered.

Mr Pettingill said that in all his years practising law, he had not come across a similar example of a magistrate recusing himself after the end of a trial.

A new trial date was set last December for January 29.

The constitutional application against the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General was filed on January 28.

The application wants to have the proceedings against Mr Robinson and Ms Wallington declared unconstitutional and the case dismissed.

Mr Pettingill said that delays to the trial for a “borderline minor cannabis matter” were not the fault of his client and were unreasonable.

He added that the court had to accept, at some point, that delays to the court case were “just not constitutionally excusable”.

Mr Pettingill said: “You have to draw a line in the sand. It's not good enough.”

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Published May 17, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 17, 2019 at 7:39 am)

Prisoner sues over 2½-year wait for trial

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