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Pregnant prisoner granted bail for abortion

Delays in getting a hearing date played a key role in a pregnant prisoner being granted bail on Wednesday, as the ACT Supreme Court continues to wait for the announcement of its new chief justice.

Justice John Burns said in court he had no knowledge of when a new appointment was coming, and the possible delay in having the woman's appeal against a seven-month sentence heard, combined with her medical circumstances, warranted a release from jail.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government would announce the appointment before the retirement of Chief Justice Terence Higgins, which occurs on Friday.

The 38-year-old woman realised she was pregnant after being sentenced, until March, for obtaining property by deception and failing to appear at court.

The woman gave evidence on Wednesday that she had received medical advice not to have any more children due to a risk of haemorrhaging which would threaten both her life and that of an unborn child.

Justice Burns heard evidence the woman planned to have an abortion next week, and if not bailed would have had corrective services officers present during the procedure.


The woman's solicitor acknowledged assistance could be provided to her client at the Alexander Maconochie Centre after she returned from her ''brief but intimate'' procedure, but said it was a cruel arrangement.

''It is a very cruel situation for her to be in, given her medical circumstances,'' the lawyer said.

Justice Burns granted bail on the two grounds of likely delay and medical circumstances, saying they combined to form ''special or exceptional circumstances'', and indicating it was likely the woman's appeal would not be heard until next year.

He said concerns about the prisoner's failure to appear in the past were lessened by the fact she had subsequently been on bail for nearly 12 months.

The woman is required to appear before a registrar for a procedural listing on September 26.

In addition to Chief Justice Higgins' retirement, this week is the last sitting time for acting Justice John Nield, who was brought in to assist the court after Justice Richard Refshauge was given time away from the bench in February to work through a backlog of unresolved cases.

Chief Justice Higgins is retiring due to the end of judicial tenure at age 70.