Pickton judge asks Crown to provide outline for trial

Intervenes in dispute among lawyers

Nov 1, 2006

VANCOUVER -- The judge in the mammoth trial of Robert Pickton finally intervened yesterday in a protracted dispute over what the prosecution has to tell the defence about its plan for proving the murder charges against the Port Coquitlam farmer.

Prosecution and defence lawyers have been sparring in recent weeks over whether the prosecution was required to disclose exactly what they anticipated would happen before the jury in the high profile proceedings. At times acrimonious, the lawyers repeatedly jostled over what they were required to do.

Mr. Justice James Williams of the B.C. Supreme Court stepped into the fray, setting out the form and content that he expected in a trial plan and indicated that he anticipated the prosecution would fill in the details.

"Time is now running short," Judge Williams told the lawyers yesterday. "The jury will be here and the trial will commence in early January." In the context of a case that began with an arrest almost five years ago "that is alarmingly soon."

Judge Williams said he was reluctant to tell the prosecution what to do. "It would be foolish of me to suggest I know better than practising, experienced criminal counsel as to the design and preparation of such a specialized document.

"It is not in any way intended that the court should dictate the design of the Crown case. That is for the prosecutors to do," he said. "It is not intended to handcuff or fetter the Crown's rightful role of leading its case as it seems fit."

However, he said he felt compelled to intervene in order for the trial to proceed fairly, effectively and efficiently.

The prosecution's case has hundreds of potential witnesses and thousands of exhibits. Mr. Pickton was entitled to know in a fairly reliable way the case that he has to meet and plan his response, the judge said.

Judge Williams said he expected the prosecution would hand over to defence lawyers a comprehensive trial plan that would follow the manner in which Crown counsel intended to lead its evidence, beginning with Mr. Pickton's arrest.

"Presumably within that framework, the Crown is required to disclose to defence the name of each and every witness that it is intended to call to prove the prosecution case," he said. The prosecution was also required to provide a brief summary of the essential points that each witness will say when they testify. Witnesses giving expert opinions on evidence must be identified and their specific areas of expertise and qualifications set out.

The prosecutors were also told to prepare a comprehensive and detailed list of all exhibits.

A court order has prohibited the news media from reporting what was going on in court before the jury hears the evidence. However, the publication ban was lifted temporarily yesterday, allowing the judge's comments to be reported.

Judge Williams said he understood that defence and prosecution lawyers were discussing submitting photos of exhibits in court, rather than producing the exhibits themselves. The judge had specific instructions if that was to be done, and for the large number of photos from the police investigation. The prosecution must tell defence lawyers the date, time, object depicted and photographer, the judge said.

"I appreciate my directions are going to impose a significant burden on the Crown to generate documents to meet these requirements," he said. Although he did not expect immediate delivery, he said, he anticipated the directions would be taken as "a high priority obligation" and the plan would be prepared "in a timely way."

Mr. Pickton has been charged with murder in the deaths of 26 drug-dependent women who mostly lived and worked on Vancouver's skid row. The first trial, beginning in January, will deal with the deaths of six women, Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Josebury, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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