Whakaari hearing: Further disclosure required

Whakaari/White Island. Photo supplied via LDR>

The 13 defendants facing charges following the Whakaari/White Island fatal eruption face a maximum fine of $1.5 million if convicted.

A case review hearing was held yesterday for the Worksafe New Zealand trial against 13 organisations involved with the safety of tourists on Whakaari/White Island.

Matters concerning disclosure of witness statements and expert briefs were discussed, with some defence lawyers saying that Worksafe had not sufficiently complied with disclosure, the original date for which was February 1.

Worksafe prosecutor Kristy McDonald sought a further date for disclosure of a brief of evidence from Worksafe investgations manager Casey Broad to be served.

A disclosure date of May 1 was given.

Ms McDonald said she had provided full disclosure of a further 40 witnesses, 18 of whom were direct victims of the Whakaari-White Island eruption on December 9, 2019, who had been on the island at the time of the eruption and 22 who were indirect victims who had been nearby.

She said she had also provided defence lawyers with one statement from a former White Island Tours employee who had been uncooperative with Worksafe, and was refusing to sign the statement.

White Island Tours lawyer Richard Raymond asked that, for the efficient running of the trial, further disclosure be given as to which of the 40 witness statements were likely to be relied on by the prosecution, and which passages within those statements.

Judge Evangelos Thomas said he didn’t feel that a disclosure order was necessary at this stage. He felt the matter of disclosure could be resolved between defence counsel out of court.

“To be fair, this is not an ordinary case,” he said.

The case review hearing was adjourned until May 31 to allow a “robust discusssion” about disclosure to take place between Worksafe prosecution and defence.

During the case review, a date of June 13 was set down for resumption of the hearing to decide the venue of the jury trial, which is to be held on July 10 next year.

The hearing began on February 8, but was adjourned for the Ministry of Justice to explore further locations as none of those it had provided were considered adequate by Ms McDonald.

Judge Thomas said yesterday that he had been assured by the ministry that the report was on track to be completed by the end of March.

He urged all parties to be well prepared for the trial saying that, right now, July 10, 2023 seemed a long way away, but it would be upon them faster than expected.

The 13 organisations are charged with failing in their duty to ensure the safety of tourists to Whakaari/White Island between April 4, 2016 and December 10, 2019. They are Whakaari Management, Andrew, James and Peter Buddle, the Institute of Geological Nuclear Sciences, the National Emergency Management Agency, White Island Tours, helicopter tour businesses Volcanic Air Safaris, Aerius and Kahu Helicopters, Inflite Charters, I D Tours New Zealand and Tauranga Tourism Services.

The maximum penalty for the charge is a fine of $1.5 million for each of the defendants.

-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air




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