The trial of a British woman facing up to nine months in a Portuguese jail after making a complaint against a lawyer has been suspended over questions surrounding the impartiality of the judge, a human rights charity said.
Businesswoman Serena Wylde, 59, from Putney, was due to face a court in the Algarve charged with aggravated criminal defamation after she wrote to the solicitors’ regulatory body, Ordem dos Advogados, calling for disciplinary action against lawyer Fernando Pimenta de Almeida Borges.
A spokeswoman for Fair Trials International confirmed the start of the trial at the Lagos court has been suspended, saying: “This decision follows an urgent application made by Serena’s Portuguese lawyer questioning the impartiality of the trial judge. This application will now be assessed by a higher court. If successful, a different judge will hear Serena’s case.”
Fair Trials said Mr Pimenta de Almeida Borges had been acting for Ms Wylde’s neighbour in a dispute over a gate built on the businesswoman’s property.
The lawyer continued legal proceedings despite being told that an amicable solution had been reached.
Ms Wylde complained to the solicitors’ regulatory body which then forwarded her letter to the prosecutor’s office which began criminal proceedings against her.
Speaking before the trial was suspended, Fair Trials chief executive Jago Russell said: “It beggars belief that Serena Wylde is facing a criminal trial and the threat of months in a foreign 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.”
Fair Trials said Mr Pimenta de Almeida Borges is the son of a former Supreme Court judge and belongs to a prominent family in Portugal.
According to the charity, the lawyer told the prosecutor he was “a well-to-do and cultured individual” who “exercises his profession with such honour, dignity and seriousness”.