James Packer is facing the prospect of a return to the One.Tel witness box in early 2006 if his cross-examination isn’t completed by early next week.

The now daily discussion at the end of yesterday’s hearing in court 12A of the NSW Supreme Court saw this prospect raised by Justice Bob Austin as defence counsel, the judge and counsel for ASIC debated whether a guillotine order should be applied to the cross-examination of Mr Packer to speed up proceedings.

It was suggested earlier in the week that Mr Packer’s cross-examination could be completed next Monday, but yesterday that was extended to lunchtime Tuesday, without any certainty of it being final.

The reason why Mr Packer cannot be cross-examined from Wednesday onwards is because he has a board meeting he has to attend and Justice Austin is otherwise engaged, and there are other problems about Thursday and Friday. After that, the court breaks for the Christmas-New Year holidays.

It was the second time this week there’s been discussion of a possible guillotine order to the cross-examination of James Packer, but each time, including yesterday, Justice Austin has decided against it.

Defence counsel, David Williams SC yesterday argued forcefully against it, reminding the court that there were other factors involved in creating delay, and that given the gravity of the possible penalties against his clients (Jodee Rich and Mark Silbermann), they deserved to have every chance to make their defence:

MR WILLIAMS: I would submit, your Honour, that it is not necessary, and the appropriate course is to keep reviewing this position periodically. I will be telling your Honour tomorrow afternoon exactly where I see us being, and my current expectation is that the estimate I gave your Honour the other day about finishing at lunchtime on Tuesday is still an accurate prediction.

HIS HONOUR: You understand that if we are to continue in the manner that you propose it would be on the basis that I would expect Mr Packer’s evidence to come to an end next Tuesday because I have other commitments on Wednesday, I understand he does and no doubt counsel do as well.

A consequence may be, if the cross-examination and re-examination extends beyond Tuesday evening, for Mr Packer’s evidence to have to continue until next year. I believe we are all determined at this stage to do what we can to avoid that occurring, but having heard the way senior counsel for the defendants made his submissions with respect to the distorting effect of such an order, the wisest course is that such an order not be made. [a guillotine order]