Lawyers told to stop quizzing trial witnesses

Portsmouth Magistrates' Court
Portsmouth Magistrates' Court
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CRIMINAL defence solicitors have been stopped from questioning witnesses in the middle of trials, it has emerged.

Two solicitors were told they must stop questioning a witness by Portsmouth magistrates.

While the incidents happened two months ago, the problem was raised in court last week.

Solicitor Lian Webster-Martin said cross-examinations at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court had been stopped short and now solicitors are asking for more time.

Lawyers have to give estimates of how long they will take with each witness but solicitors have recently been told their time was up, Ms Webster-Martin said.

She was speaking during a case management hearing for a man accused of criminal damage when she was questioned about doubling the amount of time she wanted to question a witness.

Ms Webster-Martin told the court: ‘In recent trials advocates have been stopped in the middle, with the court saying their time is up. Obviously we don’t want that.

‘It’s important that we have enough time to cross-examine thoroughly.’

Ms Webster-Martin, from Wessex Solicitors, added solicitors in the area had been asking for more time than they needed to try and combat this.

It comes as The News understands magistrates have been spoken to by a judge about their powers to manage cases.

Tim Sparkes, from the Rowe Sparkes Partnership said he was stopped by magistrates when questioning a witness at trial.

Mr Sparkes said he told the court he would pull out of the trial if he was not allowed to continue.

He said: ‘It hasn’t been a major problem.

‘It would have caused a major problem if it had continued.’

Mr Sparkes said he was not aware of any solicitors being asked to stop in recent weeks.

A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokeswoman said courts have the power to limit the time of any stage of a hearing.

She said: ‘If an advocate needs more time, at any stage of 
the trial, they can apply to the court.’