A judge says she is "rather horrified" by the suggestion authorities may serve some 36,000 files of evidence on defence lawyers for three public servants accused of defrauding the federal Department of Finance.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Helen Murrell also lashed the Australian Federal Police for "really dragging its feet on this one" after the ACT Supreme Court heard much of that material was still being examined.
Her comments came after one defence lawyer said the massive volumes of information provided so far did not shed much light on the alleged offence.
The case has now been on foot for more than 16 months, following the June 2020 arrests of Abdul Aziz El-Debel, 48, Gopalakrishnan Suryanarayanan Vilayur, 51, and Raminder Singh Kahlon, 37.
The Canberra men, who have pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth, are set to face a six-week trial.
The trio is alleged to have manipulated the finance department's IT procurement processes to direct contracts through preferred suppliers for personal gain between June 2018 and June 2020.
It is unclear how much the men are accused of swindling, but about $7.8 million in assets linked to the trio have been frozen by the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce.
In April, more than 10 months after the men were arrested and granted bail, magistrate James Lawton committed them to the ACT Supreme Court for trial.
But prosecutors have continually sought adjournments ever since, resulting in a registrar referring the case to Chief Justice Murrell in a bid to speed things up.
The judge said on Tuesday there had been "non-compliance on the part of the prosecution".
She then asked lawyers involved in the case to explain "the hold-up".
Lawyer Sam McLaughlin, who represents Mr Vilayur, replied that the brief of evidence already served on defence solicitors comprised "some 12,000-odd files".
Despite this volume, he told the court it was "still very unclear exactly where [prosecutors] say the offence lies".
Mr McLaughlin said there was now an indication that the office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions wanted to examine a further 24,000 files, which may be added to the brief.
He called for the court to take proactive action to "stop the drip-feeding of material right up until the trial", saying the accused trio had "put their lives on hold" and wanted to see progress.
Federal prosecutor Rebekah O'Meagher said the reason for the delays was that, following the initial service of the brief, some material had been identified as "missing".
She said the Australian Federal Police investigators working on the case were in Brisbane, and they had been unable to travel to the ACT to access relevant files when the territory went into lockdown.
Some files were therefore eventually transferred to a server in Brisbane, the prosecutor said, and a search warrant was executed to obtain them on October 13.
Ms O'Meagher indicated police and prosecutors were now reviewing the new material to determine how much of it would need to be disclosed to the accused's lawyers.
"The AFP have been told, in no uncertain terms, that this needs to be given priority," she said.
But Mr McLaughlin's fellow defence lawyers, James Maher and Bryan Wrench, asked the court to "draw a line in the sand" to prevent further impediments.
"This is a matter that has dragged on for far too long in a procedural sense," Mr Maher, who acts for Mr El-Debel, told the court.
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"We're no closer to a trial date being set, given the brief is still being compiled."
Chief Justice Murrell described the delays to date as "very unsatisfactory".
"It seems to me that the AFP has really dragged its feet on this one," she said.
The judge ultimately directed the prosecution to serve all further material by November 23, saying this had to be done before the end of the legal year so defence lawyers had sufficient time to review it before the trial.
She tentatively fixed the trial to begin in May 2022.
Before adjourning, Chief Justice Murrell said she hoped authorities would exclude unnecessary material to ensure "a containable trial".
"I'm rather horrified by the suggestion of the number of documents," she said.
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