The committal hearing for the Northern Territory police officer charged over the fatal shooting of Yuendumu teenager Kumanjayi Walker gets underway in the Alice Springs Local Court today.
- The hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to send the case to the Supreme Court for trial
- It is not known whether body-worn video from the night of the shooting will be shown in court
- The list of witnesses was finalised last month after argument between the prosecution and defence
Constable Zachary Rolfe was charged with one count of murder over Mr Walker’s death in the remote community west of Alice Springs last November.
He has previously indicated he will plead not guilty.
The case made headlines around the world and many will be watching this next big development in the case.
So what can we expect to come out of this week?
WARNING: This article contains an image of Mr Walker used with the permission of his family.
What is a committal hearing?
A committal hearing is used to decide if there is enough evidence to send a case to the Supreme Court for trial, says NT Criminal Lawyers Association president Marty Aust.
The hearings are held in the case of serious matters such as murder, manslaughter or a sexual offence and involve the prosecution presenting its case to a judge of the NT local court.
Mr Aust said committal hearings were held “effectively [to determine] whether there’s a case to answer” and whether a “properly instructed” jury could potentially return a guilty verdict.
“It’s a relatively low bar, in that the assumption is that the evidence is taken at its absolute highest, and that the jury could — not would — find the person guilty,” he said.
The call about whether the evidence meets that bar is for the local court judge to make, based on both the material explored in the hearing and other evidence in the written brief.
“The judge will have regard to all the evidence — not just the evidence of the witnesses being called [in the committal hearing], but the whole brief they will consider,” Mr Aust said.
“Every statement, every piece of footage, any recorded interviews — all of those matters will be viewed and considered.”
He stressed that a committal is not the same as a finding of guilt.
At the end of the hearing, there are three most likely outcomes — the case will either be committed to the Supreme Court for trial as is, sent on a different or lesser charge, or dismissed completely.
The judge is not expected to hand down a decision on Friday and may not announce a decision for days or weeks.
What will happen this week?
This week’s hearing is set to go for four days, starting from 10:00am today.
The list of witnesses set to appear was finalised last month after argument between the defence and prosecution.
Included on the list are police officers and medical experts, some of whom will appear in person and others via video link.
The witnesses will be questioned by the prosecution and defence about their knowledge of events on the night and contextual factors, such as the risks associated with potential weapons and events leading up to the shooting.
It is not known at this stage whether the officers’ body-worn video from the night will be shown to the court.
Constable Rolfe remains suspended on pay and on bail in Canberra, from where he is due to appear via video link.
In a previous listing of the matter, Judge John Birch said this was due to COVID-19 constraints, but the interstate legal teams are expected to appear in person.
Family members of Mr Walker and community members from Yuendumu are set to travel to Alice Springs for the hearing and a decision is also expected this morning on whether the hearing will be live-streamed to Yuendumu.