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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 15:10 GMT
Australian terror trial suspended
Chief suspect Abdul Nacer Benbrika, file, ABC Australia
The 12 are accused of forming a terrorism cell in Melbourne
A supreme court judge in Australia has postponed the trial of 12 terrorism suspects because of the conditions they are being held in.

Justice Bernard Bongiorno ruled that their treatment had to improve before proceedings could be resumed.

The 12 are accused of forming a terror cell in Melbourne and planning "violent jihad". All have pleaded not guilty.

The trial is taking place in Melbourne but the defendants are held in a high-security prison two hours away.

They are allowed little time outside their cells and are strip-searched and shackled before going to court.

Mr Bongiorno said in his ruling that the alleged leader, cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, and his co-accused were transported in vans containing individual steel compartments.

Mr Bongiorno said their treatment could affect their mental state and undermine the chance of a fair trial.

Medical testimony

After hearing medical evidence, Mr Bongiorno said the defendants were already suffering from psychiatric problems, meaning they had difficulty understanding the proceedings.

He said that without improvements in their conditions, they could have difficulty defending themselves.

The judge ordered that the group, who are being held in Barwon Prison in Geelong, be transferred to a jail nearer to the court. He stipulated that they must be allowed out of their cells for 10 hours a day.

While being transported, they should be restrained with normal handcuffs rather than shackles, he said.

According to the judgement, the trial will be stayed if the proposed changes are not implemented.

Prosecutors say the defendants discussed killing former Prime Minister John Howard and had pinpointed railway stations and sports grounds as possible targets for attack.

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