Lawyer Bernard Collaery (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)
Bernard Collaery (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Attorney-General Christian Porter has once again sought to draw out the trial of Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery with a last-minute intervention to delay the opening of the trial.

Porter’s lawyers have obtained a directions hearings with ACT Supreme Court judge David Mossop this afternoon to demand that the opening of the trial, set for December 11-13, be vacated. The dates were set, with the Commonwealth’s agreement, back in August, but Porter is now demanding that the trial be further delayed so he can — he claims — consider Collaery’s response to his efforts to have the trial kept secret.

In mid-November, Collaery’s legal team lodged affidavits arguing that Porter should not be allowed to impose bizarre secrecy orders that would see Collaery prosecuted, with the risk of jail, using documents that neither he nor his legal team, nor the jury, would even be allowed to see.

Porter waited 10 days before suddenly demanding that he needed more time for his legal team — which has previously threatened the judge and his staff with 10 years’ jail if they don’t comply with secrecy orders — to respond to the affidavits.

Since approving the prosecution of Collaery and Witness K in May 2018 in relation to the revelation of the Howard government’s illegal bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet, Porter has repeatedly intervened, entirely independently of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to delay and drag out the trial.

In February this year, Porter’s lawyer was rebuked by the then-magistrate Lorraine Walker for delaying the approval process for Collaery’s lawyers to be given access to national security information. “I think a finger needs to be pulled out to make it happen as quickly as possible,” Walker told Porter’s QC, who claimed that the problem would be resolved within “weeks, not months”. In fact, it did take months, many of them — all the way until August.

Porter’s goal in delaying the case at every possible moment with procedural manoeuvres has been to increase the psychological pressure on Witness K to plead guilty, even though the prosecution has yet to actually detail precisely what K is guilty of, and to punish Collaery by curbing his Canberra legal practice.

With the long-established start date of December 11 vacated, the case against Collaery is unlikely to go ahead before 2020, making it almost two years since Porter first launched the vexatious prosecution that even his predecessor George Brandis had baulked at.