A trial for the 13 Whakaari/ White Island parties facing charges after the 2019 eruption is likely to take four months and will start on July 10, 2023, it has been confirmed.
The date was decided today at a case review hearing in the Auckland District Court.
However, an appropriate trial venue is yet to be decided and there will be a special hearing in Whakatāne District Court on February 8 next year to finalise the matter.
The 13 organisations and individuals accused of health and safety breaches by WorkSafe earlier pleaded not guilty to a total of 20 charges.
There were 47 visitors on the island on December 9, 2019, when the volcano erupted.
Twenty-two people lost their lives and others were seriously injured.
Those charged are: the island's owner Whakaari Management Ltd and its directors Andrew, James and Peter Buttle; GNS Science; the National Emergency Management Agency; White Island Tours Ltd; Volcanic Air Safaris Ltd; Aerius Limited; Kahu NZ Ltd; Inflite Charters Ltd; I D Tours New Zealand Ltd; and Tauranga Tourism Services Limited.
The charges do not relate to events on the day of the eruption, or the rescue efforts.
WorkSafe alleges the Buttles failed with their due diligence duties, including failing to acquire and keep updated knowledge of work health and safety matters and failure to gain an adequate understanding of the hazards and risks associated with access to Whakaari.
Their company, Whakaari Management Ltd, is also alleged to have failed its duty to workers and tourists, including ensuring "an adequate means of evacuation from Whakaari".
WorkSafe alleges the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences failed to ensure the safety of pilots travelling to and remaining on the island.
The National Emergency Management Agency has applied for its charge to be dismissed and a special hearing may take place on November 27.
The hearing, which began yesterday, resumed today with further discussions between Judge Evangelos Thomas, WorkSafe's lawyer Kirsty McDonald QC and the defendants' legal counsel about possible trial dates.
The judge and all legal counsel appeared in the court by Zoom meeting links.
Following those discussions, Judge Evangelos Thomas confirmed the trial, which he said was expected to take four months, would start on July 10, 2023.
Judge Thomas said holding the trial later next year or earlier 2023 was not possible in the end, given the inevitable pressures of Covid and the unavailability of all legal counsel.
The question of the trial venue was something that had been debated for some months, and the Ministry of Justice had been exploring possible options for some time, he said.
Judge Thomas said the ministry had already identified some potential sites and when they may be available in Whakatāne, and also some in Tauranga.
The ministry was directed to provide a report or reports to all legal counsel on the options and clearly set out the reasons for their suitability as a courtroom for the trial, he said.
Judge Thomas said those options must factor in suitable facilities for legal counsel, witnesses, victims and their whānau, members of the public, media and security, he said.
The judge adjourned the case review hearing to March 22, 2022.