Why accused mushroom chef killer Erin Patterson is pushing for a regional hearing

But often, especially in high-profile cases, all of these considerations are overridden by mundane concerns such as having courtrooms and staff available to get cases heard in a timely manner, especially if a suspect is in custody.

On Monday, the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court in Morwell, a town 150 kilometers east of Melbourne, witnessed the legal conundrum.

Don Patterson (left), Gail Patterson, Heather Wilkinson and Ian Wilkinson were poisoned by the mushroom meal.

Don Patterson (left), Gail Patterson, Heather Wilkinson and Ian Wilkinson were poisoned by the mushroom meal.

The Gippsland region serves six courtrooms, so when lawyers for accused mushroom cook killer Erin Patterson asked her to be heard there ahead of a three- to four-week hearing – where the police case against her will be tested for the first time – the magistrate understandably hesitated.

The request, Magistrate Tim Walsh said, would potentially delay the hearing – which precedes a possible trial – until 2025, which he described as unfair to Patterson.

Patterson has been in protective custody in a women’s prison for six months since she was charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder late last year.


Walsh suggested two options. That the case was moved to Melbourne where more courtroom space and staff were available to hear the case. Or two, rush the case to the less in-demand Supreme Court, where – provided a magistrate was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to put the case before a jury – the case would end anyway.

Defense lawyer Colin Mandy, SC, told the hearing on Monday that Patterson was content to wait until 2025 so the charges could be tested in front of her community.

Patterson, and most of the witnesses – whose identities have yet to be revealed – are also from the Gippsland region, the court heard.

“Those are her instructions, Your Honor. She would like her pledge to be heard… in her local community,” Mandy said.

‘It’s not just a matter of principle, there are powerful reasons why an engagement should take place in Ms Patterson’s local community.

“Proceedings must be conducted in the community where the crime is alleged to have been committed.”

Broadly speaking, Papas says while the principle suggests that unless there is a good reason to move it, things should stay where they are. The courts must always strike a balance, he says, and there are times when there are compelling reasons to move a case from the region to the big smoke.

It appears Walsh will have to think about that decision as another date has been set for Patterson’s case next month.

Once it is decided where the hearing will take place, the magistrate will approve a list of proposed witnesses and schedule a date for the hearing. This is the defense’s first opportunity to test the strength of the prosecution case.

If a magistrate finds there is sufficient evidence to present to a jury, the case is referred to the Supreme Court.

No matter where Patterson’s case is ultimately heard, if this were a long lunch, we’d barely finish our entree.

John Silvester lifts the lid on Australia’s criminal underworld. Subscribers can sign up to receive his Naked City newsletter every Thursday.