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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Portugal abuse hearings halted
By Alison Roberts
BBC, Lisbon

children from Casa Pia
The case centres on the long-established Casa Pia orphanages
In Portugal the cross examination of prosecution witnesses in a child sex abuse case has been suspended before it could even begin.

The move came after defence lawyers lodged an official appeal that the judge responsible be taken off the case.

The case, which involves allegations that children at state-funded orphanages and schools were procured for abuse by outsiders, has dominated Portuguese headlines for the past nine months.

Among the 12 accused are a member of parliament, a former ambassador and two television presenters.

Video link

Monday was to have seen the start of a key stage in the long-running saga with the cross examination of prosecution witnesses.

Neither the accused nor their lawyers would have been able to put questions directly to witnesses.

They would not have been able to see them either, since the judge also ruled that the witnesses should testify at the crime squad's offices, while defence lawyers and those of the accused who wish to follow the process are gathered at different premises several kilometres away.

They would have heard the proceedings via video link but seen only the judge.

Psychological pressures

Several defence lawyers had expressed their dissatisfaction with this set-up and just as the questioning was due to start, they formally requested that the judge be taken off the case on grounds of lack of impartiality.

The appeal court must now consider that request. Until then, proceedings are suspended.

There are 32 witnesses in all, and two a day were to have been questioned in the pre-trial hearings.

The trial itself is not yet ready to start as investigations by police and public prosecutors have not been concluded.

The judge overseeing the case had accepted prosecution arguments that the witnesses' testimony should go on record now, given the psychological pressures they are under.

It would then have been admissible as evidence even if they did not testify at the trial.

Timeline: Portugal
30 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Portugal
23 Jul 03  |  Country profiles

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