An estimated eight-week Supreme Court trial over the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire will be moved to Melbourne after the counsel on behalf of Hazelwood Power Corporation Pty Ltd requested a change of venue from Morwell following concerns that a local jury would be biased.
Hazelwood Power Corporation Pty Ltd is charged with 10 offences relating to alleged breaches of the Victoria Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
The Department of Public Prosecutions is prosecuting the company over charges laid by WorkSafe in relation to the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire.
The request was made on the basis that a fair trial could not be held in Morwell, given the nature of the mine fire, extensive publicity and media coverage of the fire in Morwell and the Latrobe Valley and continued prominence of the mine fire in the public consciousness across the region, a Supreme Court document has revealed.
Five of the charges under section 21 of the OH&S Act allege that as an employer, the applicant failed to provide and maintain a workplace that was safe and without risks.
A further five charges under section 23 of the same act allege that the applicant did not ensure that people other than its employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from their conduct operating the mine and power station at the time of the fire.
In ruling, Justice Andrew Keogh said there were safeguards used in the system of jury trials which in most cases are sufficient to eliminate the risk of unfairnesses.
“The evidence of this application demonstrates that those safeguards will not be sufficient to eliminate the risk of unfairness if a jury trial is held locally in Morwell,” Justice Keogh said during the ruling.
He said the prospect of selecting jurors who had been directly or indirectly affected by the mine fire would be difficult to avoid.
The trial will be re-listed to commence at the Supreme Court of Victoria, Melbourne on August 6, 2018.