Magistrate to take on Ellis road death trial

DEATH-DRIVING charges against Tasmania's top prosecutor will be heard in March after a two-month search to find a magistrate to hear the case ended yesterday.

Hobart magistrate Chris Webster told lawyers for Director of Public Prosecutions Tim Ellis at the Hobart Magistrates Court that he was prepared to oversee the case, after the state's two senior magistrates disqualified themselves.

Mr Ellis, 58, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of causing death by negligent driving in a crash on the Midland Highway in March that claimed the life of a 27-year-old Launceston woman.

Deputy chief magistrate Michael Daly yesterday disqualified himself from hearing the case on the grounds that a reasonable bystander might think his relationship with Mr Ellis would prevent him from being impartial. Chief Magistrate Michael Hill disqualified himself earlier this month.

Mr Daly said he had a long- standing social acquaintance with Mr Ellis, had lunch with him a month before the crash and was Facebook friends with his wife.

"If I did not disqualify myself, I think there is a very real risk that the public confidence in this process and the integrity and independence of the court would suffer," Mr Daly said.

Mr Webster said he had been initially reluctant but had decided that there was no legal reason why he could not hear the case.

"In an ideal world, perhaps the matter would be heard by a magistrate that had no dealings with Mr Ellis whatsoever, but unfortunately - or fortunately - Tasmania is a small community," he said.

"My dealings with Mr Ellis have been minimal, even though I have known him for 30 years.

"I'm the lesser of all evils, I think."

The decision took Mr Ellis's lawyers by surprise. Mr Ellis himself was not in court.

The hearing has been set down for March 24 next year and is expected to take a week.

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