Evidence on detention centre riot in doubt

PROSECUTORS are unsure whether they have sufficient evidence against 11 asylum-seekers charged over a riot inside the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island in November.

The commonwealth revealed its uncertainty about the case at the Christmas Island courthouse yesterday when the nine Sri Lankan men and two Afghanis made their first appearances to answer charges of taking part in a riot and wielding weapons, including a chair.

They all pleaded not guilty after arriving under guard in a minibus from the Phosphate Hill detention compound.

Prosecutor Joel Grinceri told the court the commonwealth needed more time to assess the evidence and find out about the availability of witnesses to the riot.

“The commonwealth DPP is not in possession of all relevant material from the Australian Federal Police to enable proper consideration of the sufficiency of the evidence and the possible approach to prosecute these persons,” Mr Grinceri said.

The Australian understands CCTV footage of some crucial parts of the rioting either does not exist or is of poor quality.

Julian Burnside QC has been asked to represent the asylum-seekers if the matters go to trial.

“Identification will be a major issue in this case,” Mr Burnside told The Australian.

“The role of Serco (the contractor that runs the detention centre and supplies guards) in the disturbance will also be an issue.”

Duty defence lawyer Peter Huxtable told the court the riot on November 21 halted imminent visas for a number of the charged men, who had been days away from being settled in Australia.

The Sri Lankan men, all Tamils, were placed in detention on Christmas Island in June and it was important the matter be dealt with as soon as possible, Mr Huxtable said, as there “are some mental health concerns with the accused being held in detention for so long”. The case has been set down for a status conference on April 8 in Perth.

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