Rolf Harris will appear by video link from prison at his upcoming trial on indecent assault charges in what is believed to be a legal first in the UK .
The 86-year-old disgraced entertainer’s request was granted by Judge Alistair McCreath at a pre-trial hearing in London’s Southwark Crown Court on Thursday on the grounds of his age and state of health.
Harris, wearing a grey suit and colourful tie, appeared by video link from Stafford Prison where he is serving nearly six years for similar offences following his first trial in 2014.
He has pleaded not guilty to seven further charges of indecent assault and one of sexual assault allegedly committed between 1971 and 2004 and relating to seven female complainants aged between 12 and 27.
His trial is due to start on January 9 and is expected to last four or five weeks.
The entertainer’s lawyer Stephen Vullo told the court on Thursday that Harris was “well settled” in Stafford Prison but was apprehensive about being moved to London’s Wandsworth Prison for the duration of his trial.
Vullo sought leave for Harris to appear via video link due to his age and health issues and he said Stafford Prison was able to fulfil the requirements for that.
Judge McCreath said he had no experience of a trial being conducted that way but he said it seemed a “sensible idea” and he was surprised it had not happened before.
He said Harris was “an elderly man not in the best of health” who could more effectively participate in his trial if he appeared by video link than if he had to appear in person.
Judge McCreath said Harris would still be “visible” and if technical problems arose during the trial the issue could be revisited.
“Why can’t he attend his trial by choice virtually?”
When told by the judge his request would be granted Harris said: “I would very much appreciate that … thank you”.
– AAP London Correspondent