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British woman seeks new “impartial” judge for case

By DAISY SAMPSON [email protected]

A British woman, who is facing a possible nine-month prison sentence after making a complaint about a Lagos-based lawyer, has had her case postponed after a last-minute application by her lawyer questioning the impartiality of the trial judge.

Serena Wylde, a 59-year old business woman from Putney in England, travelled to the Algarve to stand trial in Lagos court on Tuesday, January 25.

However, the new application by her lawyer will now be assessed by a higher court and if successful, a different judge will hear the case.

In an interview with the Algarve Resident, Serena Wylde explained how she and her lawyer had built an audit on the handling of the case by the current judge in a bid to have a new judge preside over the case.

“It has taken some time but we have filed a list of grounds of no confidence in the judge which have been compiling for some time,” she said,

“It would be lovely if we could have the case heard in another court. However, the best we can hope for is a new judge and my lawyer believes that despite the case still being heard in Lagos, a new judge will be more careful with the case.”

Speaking from her home in Praia da Luz, Serena Wylde said she had “no idea” how long the application would take to be processed but that it was an important step in the case.

“This application is sending a message to the court.  I believe that the bad handling of the case so far has been another form of intimidation against me and so far it feels like they are going to find me guilty regardless of the evidence,” she said.

The case and charges relate to a letter written in 2005 by Serena Wylde to the Ordem dos Advogados, the solicitors’ regulatory body in Portugal, in which she asked for disciplinary action to be taken against a lawyer who had been acting in the case of a property dispute with her neighbour.

Serena Wylde owns a property in Praia da Luz and when the dispute had been settled by both parties it is claimed by Serena Wylde that Fernando Pimenta de Almeida Borges failed to follow instruction by his client and continued legal proceedings despite the fact that he had been informed that the settlement had been reached.

In February 2007, Serena Wylde was charged with aggravated criminal defamation in relation to the letter of complaint that she sent to the Ordem dos Advogados and since then she has been fighting against the charges.

While the case has caused Serena Wylde considerable stress, she has been buoyed by the public response to her case.

“In England people cannot understand why a lawyer would take a case to court without instruction in the first place.

“Here in the Algarve, Portuguese and foreign residents have told me that a case like this has made them feel scared and intimidated by the authorities, especially as this is taking place in the 21st Century in a country that is a democracy.”

She added: “Last week I was certain the whole case would be over but it continues.  It doesn’t matter if you are in the right, you still have to stand there and have the tomatoes thrown at you.”

According to the human rights charity Fair Trials International, Dr Fernando Pimenta de Almeida Borges is seeking €50,000 in damages from Serena Wylde.

The lawyer said: “It is difficult to fix a sum to indemnify the offence suffered by one who exercises his profession with such honour, dignity and seriousness…Some would say that one’s honour has no price…(I consider) adequate to restore the damage suffered by the actions of Ms Wylde the payment of €50,000 indemnity.”

Jago Russell, the chief executive of Fair Trials International, said: “It beggars belief that Serena Wylde is facing a criminal trial and the threat of months in jail for making a confidential complaint to a regulatory body. This prosecution flies in the face of free speech and puts those in positions of power beyond reproach.”

According to UK-based civil rights lawyers Hickman and Rose: “Serena Wylde’s rights under Article 10 of the European Convention, guaranteeing freedom of expression, and Article 6, the right to a fair trial, have both been breached and if she were to be convicted, she would have good grounds for taking the case to Strasbourg.”

Dr Fernando Pimenta Almeida Borges this week told the Algarve Resident: “The lawyer for Serena Wylde is looking to postpone the case in questioning the impartiality of the judge.  For me the judge is of course impartial in the case as he is a judge.”

He added: “We are trying to fight for the case to proceed as quickly as possible and I believe that the judge appointed to the case is irrelevant.”

A new date for the court case will be set after the application has been assessed.