Five boys charged with murder apply for bail

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A murder trial for 11 accused people might require a newly built courtroom, a Supreme Court judge suggested during a bail application for five boys charged over the death of Melbourne teenager Solomone Taufeulungaki.

Solomone, 15, was stabbed to death on June 16 outside the Brimbank Shopping Centre in Deer Park and police last week charged nine boys, aged 13 to 17, and two men, aged 20 and 23, with murder. Some accused had been charged with lesser offences previously. All are now in custody.

The accused boys cannot be named.

Deer Park teen Solomone Taufeulungaki.

During a bail application on Wednesday for five of them – two aged 13, one aged 14 and two 15-year-olds – Supreme Court Justice Paul Coghlan said "gang activity" appeared to be "at the heart of this, which is very concerning".

But Justice Coghlan said he was leaning towards granting the quintet bail due to the boys' age and because they faced waiting up to two years in youth detention before trial.

"Delay is more meaningful when you are dealing with very young accused," he said.

"Two years for a 13-year-old is slightly different than two years for a 76-year-old, for entirely different reasons.

"For the life of a 13-year-old to be put on hold for two years is a very serious thing."

The coronavirus pandemic has meant many criminal trials have been adjourned or delayed, and Justice Coghlan said the court might have to wait even longer, or find a bigger venue, to ensure there was adequate social distancing in a trial featuring such a large number of accused.

"If this was an 11-headed trial it would need to be held in non-COVID [times]," he said.

"A court would need to be found, or even constructed, to hold an 11-headed trial."

Prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, opposed bail and said the group failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances justifying their release, although he conceded they faced considerable delay before trial.

Mr Gibson also raised concerns some of the boys had previously breached bail – when they were charged with affray – by not abiding by curfews and associating with each other. One boy spent a night at his girlfriend's house, the court heard.

But Justice Coghlan said it was common for young accused people to breach bail conditions and that the five boys had shown a "quite remarkable" degree of compliance overall.

The boys were engaging in education and support services and had family support, the court heard.

Barrister Simon Moglia, acting for one of the 13-year-olds, said two people were seen outside the shopping centre with knives and one with a baseball bat but there was no evidence his client caused the injuries that killed Solomone.

Ann Valos, for one of the 15-year-olds, said her client denied knowledge of any weapons at the scene.

Another lawyer said his client was charged on a complicity basis.

Justice Coghlan will make his ruling next week.

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