The decision to let a man with mental health issues conduct the longest and most expensive trial in a court’s history was criticised by senior legal figures yesterday.
The trial of stalker Jeronimo Bouceiro lasted more than a year and cost the taxpayer more than £50,000 before he was finally sentenced this week.
Bouceiro’s case was called over 36 separate days at Perth Sheriff Court and the total bill is understood to be the highest racked up for a summary case at the court.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Michael Fletcher ruled that Bouceiro had terrified his victim but not caused her any physical harm. He placed Bouceiro on a community payback order and made him the subject of a ten-year non-harassment order.
Bouceiro had been allowed to exploit a loophole in the law to subject his victim, Gillian Farnington, to the ordeal of being interrogated directly by him for four days in the witness box.
As the charge he faced did not include any sexual assault, he was allowed to quiz his victim, including asking her a series of questions of a graphic sexual nature.
Yesterday, Brian McConnachie QC, a former advocate depute for Scotland, called into question rules which let Bouceiro conduct his own defence in a trial which started on 3 January 2013.
“On the point of principle, I am of the view that an alleged victim of stalking ought not to be cross-examined by the person who is accused of the offence,” Mr McConnachie said. “It offends against common sense.
“It is not difficult to imagine that such a person is very likely to be extremely upset and agitated by the idea of being faced with and questioned by the accused.
“The sheriff could, of course, irrespective of the nature of the charge which the accused faces, disallow any questions which he did not consider relevant and indeed the PF [procurator fiscal] could object to them.”
Bouceiro, a Portuguese national, was allowed to have a state-funded interpreter throughout as he conducted his own defence – despite speaking near-perfect English.
At one stage, Sheriff Fletcher said: “He doesn’t need an interpreter. This was a trial he conducted personally in English. An interpreter was here, but never said a word.”
Mr McConnachie said: “The daily cost of the sheriff’s salary for days must be thousands of pounds so I doubt that it would be any exaggeration to suggest that overall it would be tens of thousands of pounds, including interpreter’s fees etc.
“There is absolutely no doubt that had a solicitor been involved, the whole process would have been much shorter since he or she would not have indulged in the irrelevant questioning which the accused indulged in.
“If the legal aid contributions for criminal legal aid prevent people from instructing solicitors then this is an example, albeit extreme, of the results that may follow.”
During the trial, engineer Bouceiro gave six full days of rambling evidence in his own defence and admitted following Miss Farnington, 36, a police officer, to Turkey.
He told the court that he had bought a jewellery box in Scotland and taken it to the Turkish holiday resort to present a solitary peanut to his ex-landlady.
He claimed that Miss Farnington “fancied” him, but she vehemently denied the suggestion and told how she had ended his tenancy shortly after he first moved in because of his odd behaviour.
Bouceiro then concluded his defence case by reciting the words of the popular song My Way. Psychiatrists ruled that Bouceiro may be suffering from mental health problems, but did not have a definable illness which could be treated.