It is a civic duty to assist the courts in the resolution of disputes, and judges have the power to compel reluctant witnesses to give evidence. Exactly that happened in one case in which a solicitor was required to attend court to testify in respect of a disputed property transaction.
The case concerned a woman's claim that she had lent a man £250,000 to enable him to purchase a house. The man insisted that the money was a gift. As that was a matter of fact to be decided by the court, the case would hinge on the evidence, and the woman obtained a witness summons that required a conveyancing solicitor who had acted for the man in the purchase to attend court to give evidence in person.
In applying to set the summons aside, the solicitor argued that it had not been issued in good faith, in that the woman's objective was to impugn his conduct rather than to elicit relevant evidence. He was reluctant to take sides and his attendance at court was in any event unnecessary as he had made a written statement and the conveyancing file had been disclosed to the woman.
In dismissing the application, however, a judge noted that the solicitor had the advantage of being an objective and independent source and was likely to be a most important witness in resolving the factual issues at the heart of the case. The trial judge would be able to prevent questioning that was irrelevant or in conflict with his professional duty to maintain client confidentiality.
The possibility that his conduct might be criticised did not mean that the summons was oppressive. The fact that he was a busy man with a practice to run also did not excuse him from his duty to attend court, and arrangements would be made to ensure that he suffered a minimum of inconvenience.