The community of Yuendumu could be barred from watching a live stream of next week’s committal hearing of the Northern Territory police officer charged with killing 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker.
In a last-minute application, the prosecution today requested arrangements for the hearing to be broadcast in a multipurpose room in the community be revoked.
Prosecutor Philip Strickland said he was concerned evidence from witnesses set to appear at the trial could be “contaminated”, as police officers would have little control over who could enter the room and what they could see of the trial.
A four-day hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to put Mr Rolfe on trial for murder in the Supreme Court is set to start on Tuesday.
Zachary Rolfe, 28, is charged with the murder of Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot at his home in Yuendumu, 300 kilometres from Alice Springs, on November 9.
“The problems are that there are a number of witnesses, I think in total 56 civilian witnesses at trial from the Yuendemu community,” Mr Strickland said.
“I’m not in any way suggesting we would call 56 of those civilian witnesses, but there are about ten civilian witnesses who it is very likely will be called at trial… it would be of concern that if any of those ten witnesses were present during the broadcasting of the hearing.”
Mr Strickland cited concerns over the logistics for police in ensuring witnesses are kept from watching the hearing.
“There’s understandable interest in the proceedings and what I’m instructed is that there’s a real risk that people who might be called at the trial will, for one reason or another, be able to be permitted to… go into the multipurpose room and listen to the hearing,” he said.
“I accept there is tension between members of the Yuendumu Community knowing what’s happening, in this court case. That’s obviously desirable. Highly desirable. There’s a tension between that and on the other hand, maintaining the integrity of the trial process itself.”
Defence counsel Luke Officer said he supported the application, highlighting that “integrity of the evidence” is important.
“Once a witness, a civilian witness, is exposed to that evidence, they are forever equipped with that knowledge and, therein, lies the problem, which Mr Strickland has articulated,” he said.
Judge John Birch said he would not make a final decision until Tuesday, but would take into account the submissions made today.
“I accept that that is a live concern from the prosecution point of view,” he said, but flagged that blocking the livestream to the Yuendumu Community would not “be in the interests of justice.”
“Sergeant Anne Jolly, who was the former Officer in Charge of the Yuendumu Police Station will be present, throughout next week. And that officer, I’m told is very familiar with members of the community as well as, and in particular, the deceased’s family,” he said.
“And I’m sure that if a list of witnesses is provided to Sergeant Jolly, she will ensure that none of those people will be present in that room. And as well, obviously, I would give a warning as to witnesses.”