A man accused of involvement in the cultivation of hundreds of cannabis plants at Rochester has been granted bail, largely because COVID-19 means he could wait years for his matter to reach trial.
St Albans man Anh Tran, 25, applied for bail in the Supreme Court on Thursday.
He was charged in June with cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis after police raided a Rochester house and found 232 cannabis plants.
Mr Tran had to show exceptional circumstances warranted his release from custody.
"In my submission, this is a case whereby the pandemic and the steps taken to address the pandemic give rise to exceptional circumstances," defence counsel Paul Smallwood said.
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Mr Smallwood said it would take years for Mr Tran's matter to reach trial, given the pandemic had put a halt to jury trials.
He submitted there was a real risk Mr Tran could spend longer in custody waiting for his matter to go to trial, than he would spend in prison if ultimately found guilty.
Mr Smallwood told the court there was no evidence that put Mr Tran at the Rochester property prior to his arrest on June 16, which was relevant to police allegations he had stolen electricity to use there, and no allegations Mr Tran took the cannabis plants or the hydroponic equipment to the property.
There was also nothing putting Mr Tran in each of the rooms and the shed at the property, Mr Smallwood said, which was central to whether the prosecution could prove he knew the extent of the operation.
Mr Smallwood also said the burden of being in custody for someone on remand was greater now because of COVID-19.
He submitted his client did not pose an unacceptable risk and had strong ties to the community, with a partner and baby.
The court heard evidence from Mr Tran's partner that he had lived with her in St Albans prior to his arrest and would return there if granted bail.
Mr Tran had no prior convictions and no other charges pending.
An associate also offered a $70,000 surety on her house to secure Mr Tran's bail.
Mr Smallwood said any risk could be mitigated to an acceptable level through bail conditions.
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Prosecutor Danielle Guesdon said police allegedly found written instructions on cultivation in Mr Tran's wallet, and instructions written in Vietnamese inside the Rochester house.
She said a total of 232 cannabis plants were found at the property, 184 of which were in the house.
Ms Guesdon said call records allegedly put Mr Tran in Rochester seven times in June before his arrest, which amounted to a visit every couple of days.
While there would be a delay in the case reaching trial, she said a matter with an accused person in custody would be given some priority, and Mr Tran faced years rather than months in prison if he were found guilty.
The court heard the prosecution feared Mr Tran, a Vietnamese national, could flee Victoria.
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Justice Rita Incerti found Mr Tran had established exceptional circumstances as he faced delays of a magnitude not seen in the courts before, and it would be years before his matter resolved.
It was inevitable prisons would continue to face lockdowns, Justice Incerti said, and the stress of imprisonment would likely increase.
Justice Incerti said it was significant that Mr Tran had no criminal history and there was no evidence he posed a flight risk.
She said bail was granted on a $70,000 surety and with conditions that included a nightly curfew and reporting to police three times a week.
Mr Tran must also not leave Victoria or attend any points of international departure.
Justice Incerti told Mr Tran the COVID-19 situation would not be an excuse for failure to comply with his bail conditions.