Ben Roberts-Smith's high-profile defamation trial is ready to resume next week following months of delays with witnesses still stuck behind Western Australia's border closure.
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times over media reports from 2018 related to his deployments in Afghanistan that he says paint him as a war criminal.
The Victoria Cross recipient's long-running dispute has been put on hiatus multiple times due to COVID-19 restrictions, with WA hard border controls a remaining issue.
The newspapers' barrister Nicholas Owens SC told a Federal Court case management hearing on Tuesday that the trial should resume from February 2 with 15 witnesses who do not reside in WA.
These will include ex-wife Emma Roberts on behalf of the media outlets, and her close friend Danielle Scott, he said.
On Friday the war hero lost a court bid for his lawyers to quiz Ms Roberts about confidential information in an email account.
Justice Robert Bromwich ruled Ms Roberts accessed the email account for a "legitimate purpose" after suspecting that Mr Roberts-Smith was having an affair with a female solicitor acting for him in court proceedings.
Ms Roberts had a number of WhatsApp exchanges with her friend Ms Scott about her suspicions, but the judge said there was "no basis" to claim that Ms Roberts gave Ms Scott, or anyone else, access to the email account.
Mr Owens SC said these two women along with others who cannot be identified would take an estimated four weeks.
He reiterated a proposal to shift the trial to the west coast for those witnesses who could not give evidence via AVL, or suggested they travel to Sydney.
The court was earlier told there were no restrictions on the witnesses leaving WA, but that they would have to quarantine for 14 days and take PCR tests on re-entering the state.
Relocating the trial would take eight to 12 weeks, according to the Commonwealth.
Justice Anthony Besanko said another COVID-19 issue was upgraded building restrictions, precluding physical media presence at the trial.
Live-streaming the case is an option.
But given the number of SAS soldiers due to give evidence, the Commonwealth is worried these witnesses may make "inadvertent disclosures" as to undisclosed identities or national secrets.
Barrister Christine Ernst, for the Commonwealth, suggested pre-recording the trial to then be published with sensitive information removed.
Arthur Moses SC, for Mr Roberts-Smith, said he supported maintaining media transparency through a controlled method of streaming the trial.
Justice Besanko reserved his decision regarding media access for a later date.
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