19 Mar 2020

Dead man's whānau in court for inmate's hearing on murder charge

1:57 pm on 19 March 2020

A prisoner accused of murdering another inmate has objected to appearing via audio-visual link for a court hearing.

North Shore District Court.

North Shore District Court. Photo: Google Maps

The 39-year-old, who has interim name suppression, appeared in the North Shore District Court this morning.

He is one of four men charged with murdering 25-year-old Blake John Lee in Paremoremo Prison on 5 March.

The men, two 20-year-olds, a 23-year-old and a 39-year-old, are also jointly charged with injuring with intent to injure another person.

The 39-year-old appeared via audio-visual link in North Shore District Court for the first time this morning.

Lee's whānau filled the back of the public gallery and a woman held his ashes up throughout the brief hearing.

The defendant's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, told the court his client objected to not being brought to court for the hearing.

Judge Pippa Sinclair noted the man's opposition to the AVL hearing but said health measures to combat Covid-19 and security concerns were both "pertinent" reasons he was not brought to court.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Helen Winkelman announced all new jury trials would be suspended for two months because of the outbreak.

She said the courts had a duty to protect jurors and there was also a risk trials would have to be aborted if jurors became unwell.

"The process of empanelling juries often involves bringing large numbers of people together in relatively confined spaces.

"Once empanelled, jurors are inevitably spending significant periods of time in relatively close contact."

She said the Ministry of Justice was exploring ways in which technology could be used to enable lawyers and others to participate remotely in appropriate cases.

The 39-year-old charged with murdering Lee was granted interim name suppression until his next appearance in the High Court on 2 April.

Meanwhile, it is unclear if Covid-19 will affect the trial of the man accused of carrying out the Christchurch mosque shootings.

The accused gunman - who has pleaded not guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one under the Terrorism Suppression Act - is due to stand trial in early June.

A justice spokesperson said it's too early to comment on whether the trial will go ahead as scheduled.

Parole hearings via audio-visual link

The New Zealand Parole Board is now conducting all its hearings, usually held in prisons, via audio-visual link due to the outbreak.

Its chairperson, Sir Ron Young, said it was a precautionary measure that built on the board's current practice of video conferencing half its hearings.

He said the temporary change was to keep all participants in the parole process safe.

"Partly this is about limiting the travel required of the board's members and administrative staff.

"But it is also a proactive, preventative step to support the Department of Corrections to keep coronavirus out of prisons."

Corrections has advised it is following Ministry of Health advice in prisons and has controls in place to reduce the spread of infection in the event of a suspected case.